Honoring the late David Billington

Image by Sigrid Adriaenssens

On March 25, 2018 David Billington died at the age of 90. He was a great colleague, mentor, and friend. I miss him tremendously. There will be an article soon published honoring him in IABSE’s Structural Engineering International Journal (written by Ignacio Paya Zaforteza and me) and conference sessions are being planned in memorium. At the time of his death, a journalist ask me what are the three most important things to mention about David. While the meaning of his life is hard to capture in few words, here was my response:

  1. He has shown that engineering can be art. Through his scholarship, he has defined the art of the engineer – “structural art”, which is an art form different from architectural art. He demonstrated that engineering is a creative discipline, and that engineers can be artists through the structures that they design (without compromising efficiency and economy).
  2. He humanized engineering. His scholarship revolved around people, meaning the engineers who showed great courage to try new structural forms, new materials, and new lengths (bridges, vaults) or heights (buildings). In his books and lectures he spoke of the efficiency, economy, and elegance of great historical structures (bridges, towers, vaults), all within the context of the people who designed them.
  3. He inspired people – all people: engineers, students, and the general public. He was an advocate for educating the general public about engineering. He did this through his books, lectures, and art exhibitions, all of which were designed for a general audience – no advanced math or engineering knowledge needed. If you were lucky enough to know him personally, he inspired you to keep learning, keep trying, and made you feel that he would be there to catch you if you were to fall.

Women in Engineering and Design: Moderating a Panel

At the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures Conference, hosted at MIT July 2018, Maria Garlock moderated a panel of four successful, talented women, (a mix of architects and engineers), who are at different stages of their lives: Mariana Ibanez (Assistant Professor at the MIT Dept. of Architecture), Alloy Kemp (Associate at Thornton Thomasetti), Lucile Walgenwitz (Associate at Guy Nordenson Associates) and Jane Wernick (founder of Jane Wernick Associates). Anonymous polling was used to moderate questions from the audience. Here is a list of questions that were on their mind (listed in order of the questions that got the most votes to the questions that got the least votes).

New Certificate Program in Architecture and Engineering

This Certificate Program has been in place informally since 1973 and formally since 1981. When it was structured into a certificate in 1981, the only means of receiving the certificate in Architecture and Engineering is to be a major in CEE with a focus on structural engineering. We have now broadened this Certificate Program to make it accessible to students of all disciplines, within and without engineering.

The goal of the revised Certificate Program is to enable students to work at the intersection of engineering and architecture, where both engineering and architecture are defined more broadly than structural design. It is a framework for interdisciplinary study to tackle problems that cannot be addressed by one discipline and an opportunity to explore new educational and research trajectories.

Currently, three “fields of expertise” for the Program are listed: Structures, Computation, and Environment. With approval of the committee, the student may construct their own “field of expertise” that demonstrates a coherent program of study addressing a global challenge theme.

The Certificate Program now has two co-directors: one from the School of Engineering (Maria Garlock) and one from the School of Architecture (Forrest Meggers). It also has new requirements. For more detail visit the website: https://arch-eng.princeton.edu

The undergraduate announcement has more information: https://ua.princeton.edu/academic-units/program-architecture-and-engineering


Exhibition on “Creativity in Cuban Thin Shell Structures”

Cubans have an international reputation for their spirited high-quality art, which is manifested in mediums such as paintings, sculptures, cinema, music, as well as the design of structures. This exhibition focuses on selected “thin shell” structures designed and built in the mid-20th century in Havana. Thin shell structures are long-span roof coverings, which in this case are built out of reinforced concrete and/or terracotta tiles. As a whole, these structures illustrate the creative artistic talent of Cuban architects and engineers. Historical examples throughout the world illustrate that constraints enable creativity – some of the most creative structural designs are born of tight economic and/or physical constraints. It is therefore not surprising to see elegantly creative Cuban designs that were conceived of and built with limited resources. “Creativity in Cuban Thin Shell Structures” tells the story of select engineers and architects who shaped Havana’s architecture of thin shell structures and in some cases defined an authentic style that is creatively Cuban. See

https://cubanshells.princeton.edu for more details.

New NSF Award Examines Shear Buckling of Steel Plates

Collaborative Research: Shear-Buckling Mechanics for Enhanced Performance of Thin Plates

Thin steel plates are commonly used as structural elements in buildings, bridges, towers, aircrafts, etc. Due to their slenderness, these plates are susceptible to buckling under shear loading, thus limiting their capacity. The recent research shows that many existing models do not represent the true mechanics of ultimate shear buckling. This project will investigate and advance the knowledge of shear buckling response, thus leading to improved economy, durability, and safety of structures that use thin plates. The focus of this study is on steel plates, but it lays the foundation for other materials such as aluminum and composites that can be considered in future work.

The overall objective of this project is to comprehensively investigate the mechanics of shear buckling behavior in steel plates, thus leading to (a) new predictive models that capture the true mechanics, and (b) design modifications that increase economy, robustness, and life-cycle performance. The research plan involves both nonlinear finite element studies and experimental tests. A detailed examination of the stress patterns and load redistribution from the elastic buckling stage to the ultimate postbuckling capacity will be the primary focus. Physical tests will explore new panel configurations, and potential material optimizations will be identified based on finite element mechanics studies. Experiments will be conducted using facilities at Lehigh University to examine the shear buckling performance of steel plate girder specimens, both with and without bending moment. The data from these tests will be used to directly validate the computational modeling approaches.