The 'science' of civil engineering deserves an artistic approach
The art of civil engineering needs to be taught more closely with its science, argues Sadek Owainati, deputy general manager, Al Naboodah Contracting - Building Division, and chairman, Emirates Green Building Council.
Engineering is mainly classified as an 'applied science' subject, but more often than not, engineers are asked to produce 'innovative designs' and propose 'creative solutions'. This suggests that engineers need to be both scientists and artists.
From a buyer's perspective, assessment of finishes and quality of workmanship are more important than the integrity of the structure and its concrete strength. Furthermore, there is an emphasis on efficiency and quality in the homes and offices we occupy nowadays, and we are constantly told to 'care' for our environment.
It is interesting to observe this swing in emphasis between applied science and creative solutions and the demands made on engineering students and their knowledge gained at universities.
Architects' vision encompasses challenges for creating beauty to satisfy functionality and they seek innovative engineering to implement their ideas. As architecture becomes more challenging, engineers, with their varying specialisations, create models and devise systems suitable for applying their methodologies. Therefore, 'creating', 'modelling' and 'innovating' are closely linked to engineering, but I doubt that engineering training caters for such tasks.
Think of planning the construction of a project step by step, almost as if watching virtual reality. Construction managers are becoming more creative to satisfy ever-shortening time criteria; engineers also appreciate the skills of detailers to facilitate the site works; and we all recognise the relationship between ergonomics and engineering. The list goes on and on, as if engineering is moving closer to 'imagineering' than pure science.
On the other hand, we observe that designing concrete structures depends mainly on codes based on scientific formulae that are driven by experimental test results. The growth of 'imagineering' does not negate the scientific basis of these findings, but it emphasises the reality that there is a need to rejuvenate civil engineering - this global industry deserves a genuine technological review.
Civil engineering is not drifting away from science, but it requires a new approach to utilise and consolidate science, and needs to deal realistically with the current trends. Future engineers need to be taught that engineering can have an added definition - treating it as a 'scientific art', where creative thinking is a subject taught not a gifted talent. Ethically, engineers also have the duty to design and implement the works with 'care' in mind. By embracing this approach, innovation and attention to quality of life become a natural pre-requisite for engineers.
There is also a genuine need for devising novel technologies and developing new teaching material for engineers. With growing calls for adopting green building principles, the challenges are more demanding. Let's hope that the academia becomes more interactive and provides engineers with diversified courses and training opportunities that directly relate to requirements for a new generation of projects. The construction industry itself can play a vital role to strengthen the technical knowledge of its professionals; an assuring way to cast the winners in this challenging market.