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Bridging The Engineering/Architecture Divide: The Uva Solar Decathlon Team

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Technical Issues in Arch Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.272.1 - 8.272.13



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Paper Authors

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David Click

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Dan Pearce

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P. Paxton Marshall

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

“engineering schools …are increasingly out of touch with the practice of engineering… many of the students who make it to graduation enter the workforce ill-equipped for the complex interactions across many disciplines of real-world engineered systems…What’s needed is a major shift in engineering education’s center of gravity, which has moved not at all since the last shift, some 50 years ago, to the so-called ‘engineering science’ model…Engineering is creativity constrained by nature, by cost, by concerns of safety, environmental impact, ergonomics, reliability, manufacturability, maintainability…To be sure the realities of nature is one of the constraint sets we work under, but it is far from the only one, it is seldom the hardest one, and almost never the limiting one.”

William A. Wulf and George M. C. Fisher, Issues in Science and Technology, spring 2002.


Design requires the synthesis of many competing factors in order to develop the best solution given the perceived problem. The Solar Decathlon project at the University of Virginia (UVA) attempted to teach students how to design and build a solar-powered house. In the process the potential and problems of engineering design education were exposed. There is a traditional triad in building design and construction made up of engineering, architecture and construction. The mismatch in cultures and goals between the three is profound and can lead to misunderstandings and even a degree of animosity. Yet when managed well, the process of assimilating different perspectives can both produce a superior building and enrich and expand the vision and skills of the participants. The Solar Decathlon project allowed largely inexperienced students from engineering and architecture, and advisors from all three disciplines, to breach the traditional barriers and to appreciate the contributions of the others—a maturing process that will serve them well. However, this was not accomplished without some difficulty. Learning engineering design is challenging in today’s academic environment due to the emphasis on research and specialization. Design requires both a breadth and depth of understanding. Engineering, as a field, has excelled in pursuing depth of understanding but at the expense of learning how to relate to other disciplines. In the Decathlon project, this narrow vision confronted the broad goal of improving the overall design of a building. The architecture students, in contrast, came to the project with a broad overview of building design, but with little appreciation for analyzing the underlying physical principles.


Engineering is currently taught on the 'engineering science' model, i.e. largely as a series of loosely connected lecture courses dealing with various technical subjects germane to the respective engineering disciplines. Graduates and employers frequently discover that this academic background has not equipped students with the skills needed for the interdisciplinary, collaborative and cost-driven environment of the professional engineer. Even practiced engineers have a fragmented and specialized understanding of how their work relates to the larger enterprise, especially in terms of the key project management

Click, D., & Pearce, D., & Marshall, P. P. (2003, June), Bridging The Engineering/Architecture Divide: The Uva Solar Decathlon Team Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11493

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