Sunday, October 18, 2009

Week 8 [9?] Articles: Engineering as Design

For me, these articles were hard to "digest". Perhaps because I prefer the ones covering social sciences topics. However, here is my contribution:

Bruce E. Seely's Article
Seely pointed out the "imbalance caused by too much emphasis on the analytical approaches of engineering sciences" (p. 285). The practical experience needed to be transferred to the workforce, is usually not adequately developed during the college years. The focus in practical design skills was changed to scientific knowledge. With the necessary high-technology that the government needed for war, engineering schools became "greenhouses" of future engineering science researchers.

Petroski's Article
Petroski wished to make clear the distinction between an engineering and a technical person. Engineers calculate failure: "Virtually every calculation that an engineer performs (...) is a failure calculation" (p.89). The result of a calculation is acceptable only if it does not match the "failure criteria" (p.89). Technicians do not compare their calculations to a failure criteria. Then, what technicians do? The author doesn't give much explanation, but perhaps technicians limit themselves to follow a certain manual of "what to do in order to solve x or z problem" in a machine, an engine, or a computer.

Nigel Cross
This author had a playful explanation of what is design science, science of design, and scientific design. Honestly he kept me entertained for more minutes, trying to grasp his ideas.

My original idea of what design is was shaped in the first year of college, in an architecture school. The design philosophy and approach of architecture schools (at least in my country) is quite different. The design process is more intuitive, artistic, it revolves around the idea of "habitable spaces". Therefore, the main goal of the design is to create this "habitable ambient". And here we can go writing a long discourse of what means to be "habitable" and what is not...and I will not enter in such dilemmas.
I do remember that we had to use these drafting tools in a big drawing table. We had a book of architectural design (was it Chen's book.. Eek, I don't remember the author's name) that was our "bible". We had to be very, very, very careful of every line we drew. A big bold line did not have the same meaning as a thin line. A certain sketch pattern, if had a slight difference, changed the way that was perceived the volume of a structure.
I mentioned in my group's discussion that, in my country, the architecture profession is very elitist. Before the opening of a third architecture school, the main school was very selective. Only 60 students were admitted each year (now that has slightly changed). At the end of the year, 30 or less remained. I remember the conversations that architects had about engineers: "oh, those civil engineers... They don't really design. They just construct these 'plastas de edificios'" (its like a pejorative description to call buildings that aren't ''well-designed'', in architectural terms). I even remember a class where the professor showed us the contrast between designs made by civil engineers and those made by architects.
It was interesting for me to see the contrast in the engineering school. Then the conversations between engineers, were somewhat different: "oh, those architects... They don't really design...their designs are so irrational..."

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