When we think of the incredible engineering feats of the world, we often think of mighty dams, towering buildings and expansive bridges. These images may also concur with architects who drew up these plans or the brave construction workers who risked their lives during the building. ut we sometimes forget about the unsung heroes of the projects — the structural engineers.
What is a structural engineer?
Structural Engineering is a specialty within Civil Engineering. These professionals are responsible for several critical aspects of projects.
They’re designers. They’re the individuals who design strong, supportive, and stable buildings to withstand natural elements like wind and storms.
They’re also safety experts. They make sure buildings are safe for everyday use and withstand the worst elements like hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes.
And they’re problem solvers. They’re tasked with using everything from basic math calculations to cutting-edge tech.
In fact, the term engineering comes from the Latin words “Ingenium” meaning cleverness and “ingeniare” meaning to devise.
They create drawings and specifications, perform calculations, write reports and evaluations, and observe construction sites. They work on the most beautiful, awe-inspiring architecture problems, bridges, skyscrapers, homes, artwork and even rollercoasters.
Their work is so varied they may be tasked with making sure a bridge can support hundreds of tons of steel and ensuring a dance floor doesn’t vibrate when people jump on it.
For centuries these experts have used a combination of creativity and design and intelligence to solve problems.
You may know some of their work, but do you know the most famous structural engineers of all time? We want to highlight a few of the most impactful structural engineers of the last century. Without them, our most iconic structures would not be possible.
You may not have heard of Holmer Malcolm. But you’ve seen his greatest creation— the Empire State Building.
This iconic Manhattan structure is 102 stories and 1,250 feet tall, making it one of the world’s tallest buildings for over 40 years. It uses more than 200,000 cubic feet of limestone and granite.
This impressive feat would not be possible without Malcolm. Malcolm designed the building during the early 20th century. Malcolm was called a genius after taking just over one year to build. It was hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World during its 1931 debut and became one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in the world.
The structure also put New York on the map within the structural engineer community, proving engineers in the city were daring and imaginative.
Malcolm’s design advanced several innovative design concepts during his building design. For example, he made tall buildings stable and safe when exposed to lateral forces. He also began an expert in wind stresses on high-rises, designing unique foundations that eliminated vibrations in structures.
Today, many of his methods are still considered design and engineering standards.
In Peter Rice’s obituary, author Jonathan Glancey wrote, “Rice was, perhaps, the James Joyce of structural engineering.”
Some called Rice one of the most imaginative and gifted structural engineers of the 20th century. He was known for his adventurous designs and ingenious buildings.
Rice combined geometry, analysis, and a computer program for the Sydney Opera House roof for his first project.
The Sydney Opera House is instantly recognizable. Considered a masterpiece of architecture, it uses unique and unparalleled design and cutting-edge architectural and technological achievements.
As a gifted mathematician, Rice did most of the geometrical work for the roof. Rice took over the project when his partner, Ian MacKenzie, fell ill. He went on to work with the well-known engineering firm Ove Arup who used his intellectual insight and boundary-pushing ideas for numerous architectural projects.
You can probably guess Gustave Eiffel’s most famous creation. But, of course, he was the engineer who designed and oversaw construction on the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognizable and beloved feats of architecture. It combines strength and airy lightness.
Even 125 years after its development, it stands as a symbol of structural engineering. During its construction, it pushed architectural and structural boundaries. It’s twice as tall as the Great Pyramid in Egypt. Its design created and symbolized advancement in the engineering industry, developed new construction materials and techniques and helped cement better structural engineering knowledge and experience.
Today, it is one of the most-visited places in the world.
Eiffel was responsible for advancing these ideas. He was known for engineering the sound support frame structure. He used the same idea to create the Statue of Liberty and the iron framing for the Notre Dame cathedral. His goal was to build simultaneously lighter, cheaper, and stronger structures.