It’s not often that anyone sees the best geotechnical designs. Dams, maybe, but even with those the classics are all concrete arches. I guess none of us here at Atlas, or any or our geotechnical brethren, chose this career path for the glory. Those people were all drawn to architecture. Except for a select few who found bridge engineering. That’s one engineering discipline where function and aesthetics blend seamlessly, and where an excellent design is obvious to all onlookers and not just the engineers among us.
And while Portland has recently finished a marvelous cable-stayed crossing of the Willamette (http://trimet.org/tilikum/), I reserve my greatest appreciation for projects that were built without access to the unlimited might of modern construction equipment. A timber bridge built by sincere but untrained CCC crews is somehow in a different category for me, and generates a special kind of appreciation.
We came across this classic beauty several years ago while bouldering as a family through Dinkey Creek. The simplicity of the design was striking, and we paused for an impromptu discussion of load paths, Newton’s second law about actions and reactions, and how to use the method of sections for analyzing trusses.
The budding young scientist in orange standing beside me (and asking insightful questions) started college this past week. His intrinsic appreciation of beauty in the functional world draws him to studying physics, a significant step up from his dad’s mundane plodding in the mud. He has a burning interest in answering the most fundamental questions, not simple ones like “how can we cross this creek using hand tools and the forest around us.” I hope that he, and all of us, can find elegant, enduring solutions to the important questions that we consider.