The Art of Structural Engineering: Vaults
Every now and then I like to check edX’s MOOC course list and see what’s on offer. Depending on my mood I may pick a self-paced course to learn a completely new subject, such as Machine Learning & AI basics or pick a course from my favourite subjects, such as Architecture and Engineering. This time I decided to check whether the platform had added any courses on structural engineering since last time I checked the contribution was somewhat poor. As a civil and structural engineer, I’m always fascinated by the breadth of knowledge engineering offers and I’m eternally curious to learn more…
Another reason is that I strongly believe that thin shell structures still have lots to offer regarding efficient, cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing solutions despite their decline since the late 70s. With the advent of timber and 3D printing r.c. solutions, as well as the digitalization of the design, form-finding and construction processes, there is a new, virgin territory for the structural artists of the future!
Princeton’s course on Vaults is a hugely rewarding course and is immensely inspiring. It is presented superbly by Prof. Maria Garlock and it is based on the legacy and lifelong work of the late Professor David P. Billington.
This course is strongly recommended to non-technical structures enthusiasts and seasoned engineers alike, as it has plenty to teach regardless of the experience and command of design theory (or maths!).
It is a fascinating journey in the history of masonry vaults and thin shell r.c. structures, with reference to all the great Structural Artists, the masters of design and form and a rich source of references for those who want to delve deeper.
PS: Princeton/edX offers a similar course on Bridges, if you develop an appetite for structural art, which is also strongly recommended.