Preservation & Engineering

How many preservationists out there have an engineering background? How many engineers have a preservation background? Not many, to my knowledge.

These fields seem so opposite, yet how can we rehabilitate structures without a sense of engineering? Ideas can only do so much before they need to be implemented. When preservationists and engineers understand each other – at least a bit – projects have a greater rate of success for all.

Pin truss bridge in West Woodstock, Vermont.

Although I am unassumingly capable of calculus, and I have taken physics, I have never taken an engineering course. Lately I’ve been thinking it would be a good idea. But there are so many fields within engineering. Something that would benefit me in the transportation world would be my best bet. It is amazing what engineers can do and just how involved they are in every project. From road reconstruction to bridge building to historic bridge rehabilitation, it is fascinating.

Are any of you readers engineers? Where should I start? I don’t foresee earning a degree in engineering, but I’d like to take a class or two. Is there an engineering 101 class? What about classes geared towards building lovers like myself? Maybe something from UVM’s Civil Engineering program? Any advice?

6 thoughts on “Preservation & Engineering

  1. Stephanie Moore-Fuller says:

    Your ideas are right on. I think it always helps to understand more of the other disciplines you work with, whether that’s preservationists and engineers, or engineers and product designers, or technical people and lawyers.

    As for what course to take, I would recommend taking a course called something like “Statics”. It’s generally the first engineering course for civil and mechanical engineers, and will help some with understanding both bridges and buildings, or at least give you the underpinnings to do so. Those courses do have both calculus and physics as prerequisites, so depending on how rusty yours is (hey, I know mine is!), you may have to study hard, at least at first. But you may really enjoy it too.

    Good luck!

  2. Meagan Baco says:

    As far as I know, there are no preservation programs housed in an engineering department. However, there are many engineering courses, if not programs, that focus on existing structures. Like architects and planners of previous generations that chose to get involved in preservation, it would very much be up to the engineer to work in preservation.

    Furthermore, there are series safety issues in educating but not testing the skills of engineers; much like in architecture. A certificate-based education in these fields would introduce you to the field, no doubt, but there’s a real need for professional licensure.

    I know of at least one engineering firm that specializes in historic structures: Keast & Hood, Co. in DC. There must be many more.

    I’ll refer to Michael Tomlan’s, “Historic Preservation Education: Alongside Architecture in Academia” (1994): “Is there anyone in academia who still refuses to recognize that that overwhelming majority of construction activity in the United States is devoted to recycling the existing building stock? By continuing to ignore preservation, architectural educators fail to prepare their students for practice in the most fundamental fashion.” Can we substitute architectural educations to engineering educators?

    • Kaitlin says:

      Hi Meagan,

      I don’t know of preservation & engineering programs directly linked either. Of course it is someone’s choice, but I think both fields needs to pay attention to each other. It just makes more sense for understanding what can or cannot be done. I’m not necessarily looking or a degree or a license, but I’m looking to be able to speak with more knowledge. I work with a lot of engineers and I’m picking up a few things as projects arise, but I’ve noticed my colleagues who have an understanding of engineering find such interactions easier. I’ve worked with many engineering firms who specialize and have experience in preservation. It’s a joint learning experience for all.

      Architecture/preservation/engineering cannot substitute one another, but they should be combined. HP programs should encourage students to take at least an intro course in each field, and vice versa.

      • Meagan Baco says:

        I’ll keep my eyes open for engineering workshops, however, with such a professionalized field, I image this opportunities will be directly through academic institutions. Perhaps there are certificate programs, or attend a university on a course-by-course basis.

        In referring to Tomlan’s statement, I did not mean physically replacing architectural education with engineering education, but replacing the words in his quote – about the necessity of engineering education that is preservation based. This will benefit preservation because it will envelope more disciplines into the cause, and it will benefit the engineers because, as we know, much of future development will be redevelopment.

        Great articles spark these types of conversations…

        • Kaitlin says:

          Meagan, I misread your use of the quote. Now it makes sense to me. Sorry about that. I agree with you, and agree that great articles spark conversations. That is what we need!

          I’ve been talking with people who have taken engineering classes and so far the consensus is that an engineering class may be too specific or too centered around equations; as in, it wouldn’t necessarily be what I am looking for. However, a colleague has given me some good reading materials to start with and to help me get started on the engineering thought process. I’ll see how it goes and keep you posted.

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