When you’re in the business of buildings, engineers don’t often get the spotlight. That’s because most of us react to what we can see. In buildings, we see facades, forms, material articulation, colors and the overall aesthetic. When we approach a beautiful building, we ask about the architect, not usually the engineer.
But beautiful buildings can’t stand without sound structural support. They can’t function without power. And people can’t exist in buildings without heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing (well, most people). Together with thoughtful architecture, engineering brings buildings to life.
Today is the first day of Engineers Week, a globally recognized week meant to call attention to the contributions of engineers. And around the world, their contributions are vast — from bringing water and electricity to remote communities, to helping us explore space, discover cures for disease, battle climate change, and connect people around the world with technology and infrastructure.
At CannonDesign, we have about 140 engineers making significant contributions every day across all of our markets. To put their impact into perspective, the World Architecture 100 ranked us the #10 building engineering practice in the world.
To recognize the important role engineers play in our company — and in our society at large — we reached out to a few to get their perspectives on the profession. Check out their responses below.
Why do you think engineering is especially relevant in today’s world/society?
“When you look around, nearly every man-made thing that you see was touched by an engineer, whether in its design and/or manufacture. You likely woke up this morning in your warm bed, slammed the button on your alarm, took a shower, grabbed a cup of coffee, transported yourself to work, turned on your computer, and are now reading this. All simple everyday things which came through the ingenuity and innovations of engineers throughout history. It is actually quite amazing when you sit back and think about the breadth of all that is engineered around us.”
“It is the engineer’s responsibility to maintain a focus on life safety while continuing to raise the minimum standards for energy efficiency and minimizing environmental impacts. It is the engineer’s role to consider the future, including climate change’s impacts and occupant needs, and engage our clients and communities to plan and implement strategies for disaster mitigation and long-term successful performance of our built environment.”
“The built environment has a tremendous impact on our world as we know it today and for future generations. Engineering design in the built environment gives the ability to influence society, culture, and preservation of our natural resources. Thus, engineering has the weight of responsibility to make a positive impact.”
“The shift in society taking more responsibility for environmental actions has called engineers to engage design from conception through commissioning and operation. The engineer’s role has expanded as a result, and it is important that owners, architects, and other disciplines embrace this to help deliver responsible solutions to our built world.”
What’s one thing you’d like CannonDesigners to better understand about engineering?
“Sometimes engineers get stereotyped as brainy, non-creative types, but I find that many of our engineers are not only bright, but also quite imaginative. Often engineers’ brains are just trained in a different way, which requires a shift in engagement if we really want to leverage engineering strengths. As with any design challenge positioned for success, timing is everything, and ‘think time’ (planned time to engage, process, and simply ponder the complexity of the challenge) — as well as a healthy grasp on realistic expectations (i.e. science really does have some unbreakable laws) — is critical to developing the integrated, creative design solutions our firm strives to provide to our clients. Engaging our engineering talent with time to maximize the impact of their contributions and leveraging trust in their expertise will go a long way in achieving our firm-wide goals, and ultimately realize the enormous potential of our integrated practice.”
“Engineering is generally a zero tolerance profession. Successes, a design doing what it is supposed to do, are generally not celebrated or noted. Generally speaking, the most successful engineers in this field were the ones you knew least about because the projects they worked on didn’t have issues. Most engineers, if you ask them about their work history, can more readily remember the bad projects or the mistakes they have made and how those mistakes shaped them going forward in their career. In this sense, we are almost the opposite of our architectural brethren. When an architect reviews their portfolio, they tend to focus on the great projects. They may view their career as slogging through several small non-impact building projects to get to the big iconic projects that they will remember for the rest of their careers. Engineers don’t think like that, and working on one great infrastructure or building project does not balance out several small or routine projects. All projects are an opportunity for failure, and are graded as such internally.”
“Engineers are creative problem solvers whose successes are behind the scenes and whose practice is 50% of the construction cost on our major projects. Their success is hidden behind the architecture. Their gratification is one in seeing to it that it happens rather than receiving design awards. The integration of creative architectural design with solid engineering judgements, in meeting design challenges together, is the recipe for client and team satisfaction and success.”
“We need to focus on developing future generations of engineers. A big part of continual innovation is inspiring those that will follow us to solve future challenges that do not yet exist. Our current and future workforce needs depend on it, our communities depend on it, and society as a whole depends on it. It starts with elementary school, to high school to college. Get out there and be an ambassador, a role model, a mentor, and help us develop our future engineers.”