UVA Stadium Pergola

UVA Stadium Pergola 1
UVA Sta­di­um Per­go­la 1 by Jason Cole­man — I was at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia yes­ter­day for a work meet­ing, and thought I’d walk around for a few min­utes after­wards to take a few pho­tos. I’ve had far worse days at work than spend­ing the last day of sum­mer walk­ing around a col­lege cam­pus on a beau­ti­ful day.

Google Library

Sci-Fi author and blog­ger Cory Doc­torow has writ­ten an excel­lent arti­cle at Boing­Bo­ing on why Google Book Search is one of the great­est things to ever hap­pen to the inter­net. Typ­i­cal of his writ­ing, it’s well worth the read and he demon­strates, at least in this case, how Google’s build­ing of the new Library of Alexan­dria is good for all of us, even writ­ers and pub­lish­ers. If you haven’t tried using the Google Library fea­ture yet, you should check it out. I have been amazed at just how large of a col­lec­tion they are serv­ing up.(I had begun a post on Google’s Book Search for media week, but nev­er got to post­ing it since last week was also insane­ly-busy-at-work week. Doc­torow makes a bet­ter argu­ment than I ever could, anyway.)

If you haven’t tried using the Google Library fea­ture yet, you should check it out. I have been amazed at just how large of a col­lec­tion they are serv­ing up. Accord­ing to Wired, this doesn’ t yet include the dis­put­ed works. I’ve been able to find some very obscure engi­neer­ing texts as well, but just typ­ing in the name of the book and searching.


So far, this fea­ture is not unlike the “Look Inside The Book” fea­ture at Ama­zon. How­ev­er, hav­ing the world’s texts in search­able for­mat has the poten­tial for enour­mous change in research. Of course, it will take some­one like Google to sort out all the infor­ma­tion and actu­al­ly find some­thing relevant.

Wired Features Storm Resistant Homes

Wired has an arti­cle on design­ing storm resis­tant hous­ing that is becom­ing a pop­u­lar option for rebuild­ing in the Gulf Coast. Ideas includ­ing low cost hous­ing (like I wrote about last week), steel homes designed in PA, float­ing homes from Ams­ter­dam, and rein­forced con­crete domes.

Design With Social Purpose

Katrina Cottage by Shawn Lea (Flickr)

Kat­ri­na Cot­tage by Shawn Lea of Every­thing and Noth­ing (szlea at Flickr). Image CC2.0 Shawn Lea, Jan­u­ary 2006

Flip­ping through this week’s ENR, I saw a blurb about the “Kat­ri­na Cot­tage.” This 300ft² struc­ture, designed by archi­tect Mar­i­anne Cusato (arti­cle at Dex­ign­er) has one bed­room, liv­ing area, kitchen and bath­room. The design is such that the small home can be built quick­ly and for rough­ly the same $35,000 as a FEMA sup­plied mobile home1.

Of course, one imme­di­ate­ly real­izes that a mobile home can be much larg­er for that price tag. How­ev­er, the design require­ments for mobile homes are con­sid­er­ably more relaxed than those of fixed-place struc­tures. For exam­ple, the hur­ri­cane design wind for the Gulf Coast region, accord­ing to the 2003 Inter­na­tion­al Build­ing Code (cur­rent here in VA,anyway), range from 110mph up to 150mph. Accord­ing to an old col­lege pro­fes­sor of mine, a mobile home is typ­i­cal­ly only designed for 70mph, which is the max­i­mum speed it sees on the high­way. No, that’s no joke. What’s worse, in case this was­n’t read­i­ly appar­ent to you, wind pres­sure is a func­tion of veloc­i­ty squared. That means the mobile homes aren’t designed for at least 50% less force, they’re actu­al­ly designed for at least 150% less force! Now, I think, you might under­stand why I think that sac­ri­fic­ing some liv­ing space has its advan­tages over the alternative.

Many design­ers over the years have shown us that pre-fab need­n’t mean poor qual­i­ty or unsight­ly. This small struc­ture is a great exam­ple of that kind of design phi­los­o­phy. Note the large win­dows lead­ing to a front porch with inte­grat­ed seat­ing. Oth­er pho­tos show a ceil­ing fan on the porch. The archi­tec­ture of the build­ing is very rem­i­nis­cent of Deep South Style, even if we may nev­er see Pres­i­dent Bush and Sen­a­tor Lott sip­ping ice tea on this porch. Cusato has even con­sid­ered own­ers adding on to the struc­ture for a per­ma­nent home and has also inte­grat­ed the abil­i­ty to repur­pose the struc­ture if own­ers decide to build a sep­a­rate, per­ma­nent dwelling. 

Of course, this is a pro­to­type of the struc­ture, so results may vary. Also, I would like to know more about the mate­ri­als that go into this struc­ture as well as how it will be anchored to a foun­da­tion. Those details not with­stand­ing, this is a great exam­ple of design ben­e­fit­ing peo­ple who usu­al­ly aren’t afford­ed that kind of lux­u­ry. It is a tragedy that so many peo­ple were dis­placed by 2005’s Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na. How­ev­er, it is fit­ting that they ben­e­fit from mass design and production.

Update (2006–02-03): Here is the web­site for CusatoCog­gages, includ­ing how to go about order­ing one as well as more photos.

  1. As report­ed last week in the Orlan­do Sen­tinel. []


The worst part about being an engi­neer, is that a lot of your calls are because some­thing has gone wrong. Peo­ple are already upset due to the fact they are hav­ing to hire you and the very best out­come if that you can make every­thing as good as it was before. This was espe­cial­ly true when I worked for Bell­South. Then, by the time any­one reached me as the engi­neer, they were already real­ly pissed.

In my new job, we get a lot of clients for new con­struc­tion, and they just want things done as cheap as pos­si­ble. That’s under­stand­able; it’s a major part of my job to make a build­ing stand for as lit­tle as mon­ey as pos­si­ble. No, safe­ty is nev­er know­ing­ly sac­ri­ficed. That’s also a part of my job. How­ev­er, we engi­neers are taught that if we are just over-design­ing every­thing then we aren’t doing our due dili­gence to look out for our clients, and that is the same thing as steal­ing from them.

We’ve been work­ing on a espe­cial­ly dif­fi­cult job here in Rich­mond. This is one of those dream/nightmare jobs (depends on if it’s an even or odd day of the year) that has just about every twist and turn a struc­tur­al engi­neer can imag­ine. It is a very old build­ing (over 100 years). Fur­ther, it is made of wood and mason­ry, but will have steel, con­crete, and rein­forced mason­ry added to it as part of the re-use. It has been extreme­ly time-con­sum­ing and dif­fi­cult work to plan with our client to make this build­ing meet the cur­rent build­ing codes with the absolute min­i­mum amount of work to be added. There were times when I would feel com­plete­ly ridicu­lous show­ing the results of my labor to my boss, know­ing how much we were ask­ing the client to add to the struc­ture of this building.

Now, with all that back­ground in mind, let me tell you about the phone call my boss received yes­ter­day. The client had hired two dif­fer­ent engi­neers to take a look, both in the phys­i­cal and analy­sis sens­es, at the build­ing in ques­tion. Not only did they both agree with what we had rec­om­mend­ed was required, they had also con­clud­ed that what we had come deter­mined we had done it with about the min­i­mum amount of work that could be done. Now, it was very pos­si­ble the client might have found some­one who would have said that none of this was need­ed and we were wast­ing time and mon­ey. There are peo­ple who believe that because build­ings stood under exist­ing laws and codes, that it is a waste to try and meet mod­ern laws. Of course, that is, by def­i­n­i­tion, not prac­tic­ing our pro­fes­sion under the law. For­tu­nate­ly, these two groups or indi­vid­u­als (I don’t know who they are) and our com­pa­ny made a con­sen­sus that this is need­ed and it feels great to know that what I was doing was good work. My boss was ecsta­t­ic, as was I.

Grand Canyon Skywalk

The Native Amer­i­can tribes of the Huala­pai Nation are build­ing a giant hor­shoe-shaped glass walk­way on part of the reser­va­tion in order to attract tourism. What makes this even more amaz­ing is the fact that this part of their land is 4,000 feet above the base of the Grand Canyon. The bridge is a struc­tur­al engi­neer­ing mar­vel you’re shure to see some Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel spe­cials about in the future. I can’t wait to walk across this when com­plet­ed ear­ly next year (2006).

This struc­ture is so incred­i­ble as to have an entire arti­cle devot­ed to it at Snopes.com, the inter­net myth clear­ing house.

read more | digg sto­ry

West Houston’s KATY Freeway

Over two years ago, I began work­ing on part of the design team for the IH-10 and Belt­way 8 inter­change West of Hous­ton, Texas.

[I’ve been mean­ing to do a lot more of this, but bet­ter late than nev­er. This is one of the posts on a project I’ve was involved with at my for­mer employ­er. How­ev­er, for what it’s worth, this is the first struc­ture I’ve designed that has yet to be built.]

Over two years ago, I began work­ing on part of the design team for the IH-10 and Belt­way 8 inter­change West of Hous­ton, Texas. I spent about three months down in Tam­pa and then anoth­er 4 months on and off back here in Rich­mond work­ing on the job.

KATY Freeway Tall Piers

A view of some of the tall piers at the IH-10/BW‑8 Inter­change. Note the Texas star detail cast into each pier.

My role was as struc­tur­al engi­neer for the left-turn fly-overs. Those are the high­est por­tion of the over­all inter­change (.pdf file); the ones where you exit one free­way to the right to “fly over” the rest of the inter­change to head left onto the inter­sect­ing free­way. I did the struc­tur­al design for approx­i­mate­ly 1.2 miles of bridge, with spans up to 375 feet. All the bridges were sin­gle lane. Also, the struc­ture type was a dou­ble steel tub-gird­er. These are some very clean-lined struc­tures once fin­ished. I can say that, as I had no deci­sion in the struc­ture type and lay­out what­so­ev­er. I sim­ply decid­ed how thick to make all the plates. Sounds so sim­ple, does­n’t it?

The KATY Cor­ri­dor project is a huge con­struc­tion project, widen­ing and ren­o­vat­ing rough­ly 20 miles of IH-10 between Hous­ton and Katy, TX at a cost of $1.44 bil­lion (yes, that’s a B). The sec­tion this inter­change is in, called Con­tract D, came in with a $250 mil­lion price tag. That’s a rather large civ­il project, by any terms.

This was a great project to learn on, as curved bridges have some force effects due to grav­i­ty that many oth­er bridges don’t expe­ri­ence. The por­tion of the bridge that sweeps out beyond the straight line con­nect­ing the sup­port­ing piers cre­ates an immense twist through­out the bridges length (think of wring­ing out a dish­tow­el). This is resolved with­in the super­struc­ture by that tub (or trape­zoidal) shaped box sec­tion. The lev­el of force is tremen­dous, as is the size of steel plates involved in the bridge gird­ers. Two steel box­es which are 8′-6″ deep and 8′-0″ wide (at the top) car­ry a con­crete road deck and vehic­u­lar traf­fic up to 375 feet between piers at 85 feet in the air. There are three lev­els of traf­fic below the bridge at it’s high­est point. It is a sym­pho­ny of steel and con­crete that takes years to design and build.

My part in it was rather small, but I learned so much from it. I had the plea­sure of work­ing with great engi­neers who tru­ly want­ed a safe and aes­thet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing bridge. I real­ize there was, and remains, a great deal of con­tro­ver­sy involv­ing this project. How­ev­er, in the end, I hope the cit­i­zens of Texas can enjoy and appre­ci­ate their road. Struc­tures such as this one are a prod­uct of a soci­ety that cher­ish­es the auto­mo­bile almost as fam­i­ly. It’s nice when we can have pleas­ant roads and bridges with which to put them on.

Like Passing A Stone

I found out today that I passed my Pro­fes­sion­al Engi­neer exam, which is great news! Odd­ly, I don’t feel any different…

I found out today that I passed my Pro­fes­sion­al Engi­neer exam, which is great news! Odd­ly, I don’t feel any dif­fer­ent. It’s been 11 long years since I start­ed col­lege, just to get to this point. I sup­pose this has all been the pre­am­ble to some much larg­er and longer set of events. At the end of the day, I was still doing about the same stuff I was doing before. Now, I have a seal, though, that says at least I’m not a total idiot. Okay, I still actu­al­ly have to pur­chase the seal, but whatever.

I still have this nag­ging sus­pi­cion that this is all just some mix-up, and that once the Com­mon­wealth of Vir­ginia gets every­thing sort­ed out, they’ll send me my let­ter stat­ing how I real­ly did­n’t pass. Know­ing me (and I do), I’ll have that same feel­ing even after they send me any let­ter stat­ing that I passed. I’ll prob­a­bly feel that way until the statute of lim­i­ta­tions has run out on such let­ters, and even then I may always won­der… (Well, that’s about enough self-doubt for one paragraph.)

Just as a side note, I have some oth­er pro­fes­sion­al goals that go beyond this point. How­ev­er, this is a big deal to me. Vir­ginia isn’t a state that seems to care much one way or the oth­er about pro­fes­sion­al licen­sure among engi­neers. How­ev­er, in Ten­nessee (where I grew up and went to col­lege), they real­ly made it a big deal. The word “engi­neer” is reserved for only those peo­ple who have passed a sim­i­lar exam (well, it would have been the exact same exam in my case). I think that’s pret­ty cool. The fact that I’ve held the title of Struc­tur­al Engi­neer for the past 3–1/2 years kind of takes some of the air out of actu­al­ly pass­ing an 8‑hour exam (which required 4 years of expe­ri­ence to even apply for). I sup­pose now I’ll actu­al­ly say what my job is in more than a pass­ing mum­ble and with­out the aster­isk in my mind that says *not real­ly, not yet anyway.

Fast-Paced First Week

I can hard­ly believe that five whole days have gone by since I start­ed my new job. I have to say that I’m feel­ing a great deal more opti­mistic since my last post, too.

My Office View

Look­ing out the win­dow at my new office onto the snow from the last two days in Richmond.

I can hard­ly believe that five whole days have gone by since I start­ed my new job. I think that even after psych­ing my self up for a month, I was­n’t pre­pared for the quick pace of work here. I got on a project first thing on Mon­day morn­ing, and I’ve been busy with it pret­ty much the entire time since (well, at work any­way). I have to say that I’m feel­ing a great deal more opti­mistic since my last post, too. It’s not that I thought I’d made a mis­take, it was just that sink­ing feel­ing of real­iz­ing just how much I was step­ping back­ward, in a career sense.

My boss and I did get to make a site vis­it down­town Rich­mond on Tues­day, though. It was about 20º F, in the sun with 15–20 mph winds. I have a whole new lev­el of respect for those con­struc­tion guys out grout­ing lin­tel seats and hang­ing struc­tur­al steel. Insane. We’ve had snow the last cou­ple of days here in Rich­mond, so I doubt they’ve had much of a chance to con­tin­ue. This pho­to is look­ing out my new office win­dow. I took it around lunch on Fri­day. I real­ize it’s not a spec­tac­u­lar view, but since I could­n’t see any day­light from the desk at my old job, I feel as though I’ve moved up in the world.

I’ve spent the week learn­ing all about RAM Inter­na­tion­al’s Struc­tur­al Sys­tem design soft­ware pack­age. I have to say, I’m pret­ty impressed thus far. I’ve used a num­ber of soft­ware solu­tions for struc­tur­al analy­sis and design, and RAM has lived up to its billing as a one of the best. It is very much geared to the build­ing indus­try, and there­fore can tai­lor its solu­tions accord­ing­ly. I miss some of the open end­ed-ness of some of the oth­er pack­ages I’ve used (STAAD, GTSTRUDL) or even the more straight for­ward frame input of oth­er build­ing design soft­ware (RISA 3D). How­ev­er, you trade all that for the speed and com­plete-ness that RAM offers. Sure, I can’t cus­tom edit ele­ments to cre­ate out-of-plan beams, for exam­ple. What I can do, though, is enter in and design an entire two-sto­ry school build­ing in a man­ner of hours. Pret­ty slick.

The oth­er task this week was learn­ing a lit­tle more about build­ing con­struc­tion. For­tu­nate­ly, the edu­ca­tion sys­tem for the struc­tures por­tion of civ­il engi­neer­ing is catered to the build­ing indus­try. I got to spend the last 3 years learn­ing a good bit about bridge design (albeit, only steel bridges). Now, I get to actu­al­ly use some of the things I learned in school towards design. Now, if only I could start using LRFD steel design.

Just as an aside, I’m using a new util­i­ty for Word­Press called Flick­It. It sim­ply adds a quick­tag to your edi­tor allow­ing to eas­i­ly insert a hyper­linked Flickr image. It’s not per­fect, but works does exact­ly what it claims to and is free (after they got into a lit­tle trou­ble with the com­pa­ny that owns Flickr for charg­ing). Any­way, I men­tion it because I know a lot of my friends use both Word­Press and Flickr and might want an eas­i­er way of get­ting them to play together.