“You can describe the future of structural engineering as
something that, like the dinosaurs, is about to be struck by an asteroid.
It’s disaster time and the
profession is going to have to change.
The big beasts may have to turn into tiny mice and run about on the forest floor and evolve into something else,”
Quote from Chris Wise Structural Engineer Magazine August 2016
And furthermore Chris said:
“Now there is so much that can be
automated, structural engineering may not even need to be done by structural engineers at all.
With much of the new software, a seven-year old could do it.”
And then I wrote a letter, published the following week:
“To take Chris’s thinking a step further, perhaps a challenge should be set: to define clearly and concisely what a structural engineer should be in 10 years’ time”.
Nobody has taken on the challenge, from what can be seen in the October edition of the Magazine.
Let’s make an attempt………The Engineer of the Future……I present to you…..
Recipe to Create the Future Engineer
1. Artisan, Builder & Architect.
Let’s say that artisans are all those subcontractors which technical knowledge and skills who produce specialist components: steelwork, carbon fibre roofs, intelligent cladding and so on. They also produce 3 dimensional drawings to enable the contractor to assemble the component parts of the building on site. Prefabrication (offsite construction) will comprise the bulk (90%) of future construction.
Architects will conceptualise, plan and build (draw) 3D model drawings of their buildings, bridges, street architecture and so on. They will no longer act as master builders, but they will maintain the role of principle consultant for clients.
Builders will take on the role of ‘master builders’ (the architect role generally understood to predate the mid 20th century). They will manage the artisans (subcontractors), commission the design of the sub assemblies; they will ‘dovetail‘ the components into the architects master-scheme, liaise with the architects and client(s).
2. Advanced Materials and Methods
Construction will be making use of advanced materials. Carbon Fibre, Graphene, High Strength/self compacting concretes, reconstituted timber, will be familiar to the buildings of tomorrow. Intelligent cladding, which can alter opacity to changes in sunlight, increase or decrease heat absortion/radiation from surfaces, will be the norm.
3. New Design Tools (The Computer Age)
Some techniques, in their infancy today, will be commonly available to all. Virtual Reality (VR) will make the architect’s 3D models of the interior, and local exterior, almost indistinguishable from the finished product. A client will be able to experience the reality of their buildings before they are built. Architects will have their time taken up with numerous design alterations in this visual world.
Holograms will be available to all to give scaled representations of elements – for instance structural connections, Kitchen arrangements (a walk ‘around’ model), sculptures and so on.
Mathematical techniques such as fractural mechanics will be available to help produce 3D-printed carbon fibre/plastic structures which take forms to ecological structures inspired from the natural world – to allow experimentation – bring random and/or repeating patterns of beautiful forms of exposed structure.
4. Internet of Things
IOT or Internet of Things is the next revolution in technology. This is the interconnectness of computers and people of the future, rendering the current form of the Internet obselete. All manner of devices will be maintained, monitored, controlled and used with the data gathering and remote control systems through the internet. Building environmental systems, Bridges (traffic control, monitoring of deflections, bearing wear and so on), CCTV systems, TVs and kitchens.
People will have all of their health monitored by implants and ‘smart clothes’, buildings will come to learn individual needs and tailor this to the specific user. Robots (at least not of the talking and walking type like R2D2, necessarily) will be cleaning our homes for instance and helping the professionals (drawings, design, checking that designs meet local authority regulations and so on).
The Structural Engineer: Where and who are you?
So far we have laid the groundwork, but have failed to mention the engineer in the team. Is there any room left for an engineer? Have they turned into ‘tiny mice’ or have they disappeared altogether?
The Official Struartapp.com Prediction
The Structural Engineering profession will have split into two parts:
Stress Analysts (Or Stress Engineers)
In essence all of the complex ‘technically demanding’ modelling of future structures will be undertaken under contract. Stress Engineers from the Mechanical Engineering business will merge with like minded ‘mathematically and logically’ able structural/civil engineers into a new profession with its own institution. All of the structural analysis (finite element modelling, calculations, complex models, dynamics) and prototype testing of significance will be undertaken by this profession who will work in the automotive, aerospace and civil industries.
They will not produce drawings, except the basis geometric output from their models, which will be sent onto the architects/contractors – for commissioning of the 3D models by other parties – which will be the detailed drawings of the future. To some extent this is already happening. Timber frame drawings (with details), for instance, are produced with 3D drawing packages (such as ITW/hsbCAD). BIM will no longer be used as a term, since it is, in essence redundant, normal practice is 3D modelling of buildings/bridges to which all parties contribute.
This will be where the ‘more aesthetically inclined’, more architectural in leaning, and less ‘mathematically minded’ engineers will emerge. They will be in the Chris Wise, Tony Hunt or Ove Arup mould. Part of their University Education will be in the architecture schools and part learning the skills of the artisan/contractor. Their ability to understand architecture and aesthetics will be sophisticated. They will not draw details but produce conceptual drawings. Their level of calculation will be rudimentary (but more accomplished and useful than architects. They will in short, be more like the artisans/master builders of the medieval period building virtual models of the building connections/components in a way that was once done on full scale models by the medieval architects.
Just how close will this new sub-profession be to architects? Will they be termed as say ‘Structural Architects MISArch.’?
Therein lies the rub…and I would hope Chris Wise would agree. The extent to which this new sub-profession plays in the world of ‘planning/architecture/aesthetics’ in the future will depend on the willingness of ‘pioneer’ engineers in the future to embrace the world of the architecture: BIM, the loss of the architect’s ‘master builder’ role, the greater preponderance of offsite construction (details devised and undertaken by subcontractors) and other changes all provide an opportunity for (Today’s) Structural Engineers to soak up some of the new (yet undefined) areas of responsibility; the opportunities are there to be grasped.
And how is this Achieved?
It is contended that engineers of tomorrow should be “Engineers who are prepared
to work with the demands of the project in hand, offer practical solutions; without over-egging the details or sticking obstinately to their specified design”.
In short they should relinquish the detailed drawing output and hand this on to subcontracting designer/detailers, embrace and educate themselves in architecture and building constrution and strive to become the ‘Master-Builders‘ of tomorrow.
If I were the Institution Futures Committee what would would the masterplan be? Essentially to build education around the two strands of the future predicted:
A. Push the integration of the technically orientated (away from the City of London global finance employers!) with stress analysts of the aerospace/automative industries.
B. Create a new branch of the profession (architectural engineers or structural architects) and drive to integrate their education more closely with architects. Starting with joint classes and projects at University.
This could all be more than 10 years into the future, but diving on the ball should start now, perhaps?