Engineering, Beauty and a Longing for the Infinite

The article recently published in Scientific American “Engineering, Beauty, ad a Longing for the Infinite“, speaks of a quintessentially Princeton ethos : the importance of a liberal arts education (and longing for ‘beauty’) in STEM curriculum.

The piece was inspired by a PIIRS Global Seminar co-taught by Sigrid Adriaenssens, Maria Garlock, and Branko Glisic. It is written by our colleague, Margarita Mooney, whom the instructors invited to join in Italy for a six-day excursion with the students. Margarita is a Professor in Princeton Theological Seminary (this year she is a visiting scholar at Princeton University), where she defines herself as “someone whose work lies at the intersection of sociology, theology and philosophy.”

Towards the end of the article she goes into detail about what we learned on the excursion and summarizes the piece nicely with why a liberal arts education is important. A great and inspiring read!

IASS 2019 Conference Sessions Honoring David Billington

On Monday, October 7 2019, two sessions were held at the IASS Conference in Barcelona:

  • Contributions in Memory of David P. Billington I: Pedagogy
  • Contributions in Memory of David P. Billington II: Structural Art and Design

Six papers were presented in each well-attended session and these papers can be downloaded here.

The session organizers (John Abel, Maria Garlock, Sigrid Adriaenssens) wish to thank all of the contributors of these sessions – you were essential to making it a success! We also thank the audience for engaging in thoughtful discussions with each other and the presenters.

There will be another set of papers honoring David Billington, to be published in the Journal of the IASS in March 2020.  Stay tuned!



Teaching a Global Seminar in Rome (July 2019)

Professors Garlock, Glisic, and Adriaenssens taught “Two Millenia of Structural Architecture in Italy” in the summer of 2019 through Princeton’s PIIRS Global Seminar Program.

The aim of this seminar is to track and  understand the structural and architectural engineering leadership of Italy in the context of social-political-economic circumstances.

The seminar studies various structures of Italy in three distinct time frames. The first part of the course explores creativity in structural and architectural engineering during the classical and medieval period. It identifies particularities relative to the analysis of ancient structures, including construction materials, construction techniques, structural elements (column, arch, wall, and shell), and architectural forms (bridge, building, and dome). The second part of the seminar is based on vaulted reinforced concrete structures of the  1900s. The works of Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi are contrasted to those of Spanish engineer Felix Candela. The third part of the seminar brings us to modern times of lightweight structures and advanced technologies. It traces the relationship between innovative design and construction technology, and the evolution of tent structures.

New MOOC Launched in 2019: “The Art of Structural Engineering: Vaults”

This new Massively Open Online Course (MOOC), titled “The Art of Structural Engineering: Vaults,” was released on the edX platform in January 2019. The course is about “vaulted structures” also referred to as “shell structures”. These are long-span roof coverings that are very thin in comparison to their span (meaning length). Proportionally speaking, these vaults can be thinner than an egg.

This course was designed for a general audience, no engineering background is needed. It is the second of three independent online courses that examine The Art of Structural Engineering. The first one was about bridges, and the next one will be about buildings.

New CASCE Website

The website for the “Creative Art of Structural/Civil Engineering (CASCE) ” has been redesigned so that it is now simpler to find and download materials.  As the website states, it “builds upon the thesis of the late Professor David P. Billington of Princeton University, who defined “Structural Art” as structures (bridges, vaults, buildings) that seamlessly integrate efficiency, economy, and elegance.  This website (1) contains teaching resources to support instruction in CASCE to a broad audience (STEM and non-STEM), (2) makes a case for why teaching structural art and CASCE is important in higher education, and (3) describes the community of universities and colleagues who have adopted this teaching and their activities (e.g. workshops, conference sessions).”


Keynote lecture at Structural Engineers World Congress 2019

Professor Garlock delivered a keynote lecture at the Structural Engineers World Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, 24-26 April 2019.  The title of the lecture was “Felix Candela Umbrellas Transformed:
From Roofs to Coastal Defense”, and it represented a new direction of research that integrates structural art with coastal defense structures.  The theme of the conference was “Architecture and Structure: From Past to Future” and Candela’s umbrellas represented exactly that.  His umbrella structures are ‘structural architecture’ – meaning the two are indistinguishable.  Whereas in the past, these umbrella structures were used for roof coverings for large areas, the presentation focused on the potential future of these umbrellas as coastal defense structures.

Getty Foundation’s 2018 Keeping It Modern Grant

CEE Professors Branko Glisic and Maria Garlock teamed up with a consortium of European institutions led by Politecnico di Milano (including Vittorio Garatti Committee for the Havana National Schools of Art) to win Getty Foundation’s 2018 Keeping It Modern Grant for preservation study on The National Schools of Art of Havana. This collaborative research stemmed from the 2016 edition of the course CEE 463 A Social and Multidimensional Exploration of Structures, which focused on Creativity in Cuban Thin Shell Structures. The course initially led to several internal exploratory research projects including senior thesis of Isabelle Douglas ’17 and part of Ph.D. thesis of Rebecca Napolitano *20, whose works served as the basis for several publications and the collaborative proposal submitted to Getty Foundation. More detail about the project can be found in Getty Foundation website at

Maria Garlock is Appointed Head of Forbes College

As of July 1, 2018, Garlock was appointed Head of Forbes College, one of the six residential colleges on Princeton’s campus. Her responsibilities include creating an inclusive community that nurtures the intellectual, social and personal development of its members. She will reside in the college house, which allows her to host programs that build community by bringing students, faculty and administrators together. What attracted her to the position of Head of College is an opportunity to interact more with students and create opportunities for personal growth and enthusiasm for learning, all of which necessitates an environment of encouragement and inclusivity.