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The Human Anatomy Of Construction

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.1011.1 - 6.1011.9

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Ashraf Ghaly

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

Session 2793

The Human Anatomy of Construction

Steven D. Sargent, Ashraf M. Ghaly Union College, Schenectady, New York


Many components make up the anatomy of a structure. Structural components, such as columns, beams, slabs, and floors constitute the building units of what is usually referred to as the skeleton. But the "human" anatomy of structures is more important than, and directly affects, their physical anatomy. The design of a structure and the method used in construction are influenced by social, cultural, religious, and historical factors. In addition to these human factors, building design must take into account the prevailing natural, environmental, and engineering conditions. In the absence of careful consideration of the full array of factors, a structure could lack the desired functionality. Construction for Humanity is a course developed and offered at Union College with several goals in mind. The most important is to show the seamless connection that exists between Liberal Arts and Engineering. This is demonstrated using numerous examples of ancient and modern structures in an interdisciplinary fashion. Topics covered in this course include earth and masonry structures, domestic housing, castles, cathedrals, monuments, dams, bridges, roads, tunnels, skyscrapers, and structures with futuristic designs. Weekly assignments and a carefully crafted project complement and enhance the students’ learning experience.

I. Course Idea

The second author (A. Ghaly, an engineer) approached the first author (S. Sargent, an historian) and explained his idea of a combined course which would explore the engineering and humanistic side of structures throughout history. Sargent was very enthusiastic about the course, because he recognized immediately its potential for real interdisciplinary cooperation. Both authors agreed on the basic course outline after a few hours of intense discussion. After that it was all implementation. Sargent believes that engineering students should consider the historical, social, and cultural aspects of buildings, because engineering doesn’t happen in a vacuum. All structures are influenced by cultural expectations about how a building should look and how it will be used. Social structure, gender relations, religion, and aesthetics (to name just a few factors) all play a role in building design. In fact, in most cases cultural factors are more significant than material constraints in determining a building’s form and function. It is also important for engineering students to consider social uses of buildings because this will help them design buildings which better satisfy the needs of the inhabitants. Furthermore, although the design of buildings is meant to make them structurally safe, an understanding of the social use of buildings will also make them comfortable and enjoyable.

Ghaly, A. (2001, June), The Human Anatomy Of Construction Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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