Back from the Dead

Dear blog, It’s certainly been a while since we’ve last tangoed, isn’t it? Perhaps my four loyal readers are interested in an account of where exactly I’ve been the past month or so. So, here is my firsthand account of my month of hell.

I’m a Civil Engineering student, and part of the civil engineering degree is a course known simply as the design project. Two words, four credits, but within those two words is the biggest academic challenge that you face as an engineering student. Myself, along with three other teammates, are assigned a real world engineering problem that we have to solve, and we’re given a semester to do it.

There are various specializations, based on what you’ve studied in the four years leading up to it. I happen to love concrete (seriously, in fact, I’m going to graduate school to further my education), so I selected the structural design project. My group was given an 8 story, reinforced concrete hospital to be fully designed and detailed, right from the foundations to the very tip of the roof, and every millimeter in between.

To say that this was lots of work was a bit of an understatement. I won’t bore anyone with the gritty details of structural analysis, but accounting for everything that is going to be used in a building is surprisingly complicated. I was personally in charge of the LEED design, which is the international standard for sustainable buildings. In the course of the semester, I did research on really cutting edge building systems, things like the Sunlight Direct system, which actually uses fibre optic cables to transfer captured sunlight directly into the building, so you get sunshine inside even without any windows in the room.

I was also in charge of the concrete design. Concrete, for those not in the know, produces about a ton of CO2 for every ton of cement produced, which really adds up when you are talking about thousands of tons of concrete for your average building. I specified concrete that would decrease this sad reality by about 20-25%, while diverting thousands of tons of industrial garbage from the landfill in the process.

The really big thing that I got out of the design project was a newfound appreciation for the hidden details in structures. Perhaps it is just me speaking from the experience of design, but I look at a building now and I see the columns and beams bending, twisting and stretching under the giant forces they are subjected to. The way we construct buildings is quite elegant, minimizing the stuff we need while maximizing the utility, but underneath that elegance is an exhausting and rigorous process for ensuring that everything, from the largest foundation to the tiniest bolt. Everything, and I really do mean everything, is governed by the concrete design handbook, which is this brief little document:

Design project was a lot of work, a hell of a lot of work, which is why I was in the design lab for about 12 hours a day all through November. BUT WE FINISHED IT! The summary report was about 100 pages, and all of our detailed design calculations took up an additional 350 pages at least. But the documents we produced could have been used to actually build a building, which is why I got involved with this field in the first place. We were there at every step of the way, and the satisfaction I feel now that it is over and done with is really like nothing else.

So blog, sorry I was gone, you were not forgotten.

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~ by Andrew on December 11, 2010.

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