Asee peer logo

Embracing the Past: Using Historical Structures to Teach Engineering Fundamentals

Download Paper |


2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Instructional Innovations and Global Issues in Architectural Engineering Education

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

25.519.1 - 25.519.9



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Robert J. Dermody A.I.A. Roger Williams University

visit author page

Robert J. Dermody is an Associate Professor in the School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I. His background bridges the realms of architecture and engineering. He earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a master's of architecture degree with a concentration in structures from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Dermody teaches both studios and lecture courses focusing on architectural structures and is a licensed architect in Massachusetts.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Don’t Forget the Past, Using History to Teach EngineeringThe legacy of the great structures of the 19th century, and the engineers who designed them, areimportant and fruitful topics for engineering education in the 21st century. By considering thesocial, political and economic context in which the seminal structures of the industrial revolutionwere constructed, students will simultaneously be exposed to important themes in thehumanities, social sciences, as well as practical engineering examples. In particular, these iconicstructures are ideal examples to use to engage students in a rich discussion of the fundamentalprinciples of statics, and strength of materials.As Pier Luigi Nevi notes, prior to middle of the 19th century, designers typically followed“simple static schemes”, since they were unable to use calculations to verify designs. It is justthese types of statically logical structures, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Brooklyn Bridge, thatlend themselves to lessons on form-finding, statics, and equilibrium. Issues of stress, stability,and loads can also be discussed using bridges and early three-hinged arches. The developmentof steel and concrete as building materials resulted in structures that achieved strength andstability through means other than primarily relying on mass. This expands the quantity and typeof structures available to study to include tensile systems. Furthermore, the development ofthese new materials is naturally intertwined with social, political and economic changes of theireras.It is equally important to study the designers of influential structures. Many of them left behindcritical writings on engineering theory and design, a tradition which continues to this day. Bydrawing connections between eminent engineers of the past and some of today’s practitioners,students can understand the role history plays in the evolution of buildings.This paper will explore the rich and fertile role historical works of structural engineering, andtheir designers, have to play in 21st century engineering education. Examples of lecture topics,classroom exercises and learning outcomes will be discussed. Strategies for, and benefits of,incorporating significant structures in engineering courses outlines will be demonstrated.

Dermody, R. J. (2012, June), Embracing the Past: Using Historical Structures to Teach Engineering Fundamentals Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21277

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2012 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015