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The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 9: Engineering — Architecture

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 24, 2011

For background and links to chapters in this series, see here

LESSON IX

ENGINEERING – ARCHITECTURE

The most majestic of “The Sister Arts”
Is that which builds; the oldest of them all
To whom the others are but handmaids
And servitors, being but imitation, not creation. – Longfellow

In the modern world with its large-scale construction and with the use of numerous improved building materials, practically all of the important development work is conducted under the supervision of architects and engineers. The ordinary man without training or experience has no place in planning these structures since the matter of safety on the one hand and of economy on the other must be so balanced that the structure will bel absolutely safe and adequate for the use to which it is to be put, and at the same time contain no surplus material at any point. This is an age of doing things by exact scientific standards and not by guess.

Engineering

Is one of the newest of the occupations to be rated as one of the learned professions. The present age of scientific research has developed such a large body of knowledge that a long period of training is now necessary before the prospective engineers can master these facts well enough to make himself ready for professional service. The engineering courses are, therefore, among the most exacting int heir requirements. It is no longer possible for one man to learn all there is about engineering and as a result there have grown up many branches of engineering among which are the following: civil, mechanical, electrical, mining, chemical, agricultural, military, naval, sanitary, and aeronautic. Each of these major divisions may again be subdivided according to the class of work to be done.

Importance of Engineering

Practically every field of human endeavor is indebted to the engineer, who must be a forerunner of civilization in a new country and an indispensable aid to intensive construction in places that have long been settled. “The importance of this profession,” says one engineer, “is realized when we remember that it has made possible the modern systems of travel on land and water, the transformation of the desert waste throughout the world, the modern means of communication by mail, telegraph, and telephone, the building of homes, the sanitation of towns and cities, and the lighting of homes, streets, and public buildings.”

Desirable Qualities of an Engineer

The engineering profession demands of a man the same character which is so essential to any one following other vocations of life. The rules of honesty, loyalty, perseverance, temperance, self-denial, etc., which are so elementary, and at the same time so fundamental, are acquired in this profession. However, personal adaptation for work is probably more essential in engineering than in some of the other vocations. A good physique and ability to do hard work are indispensable for most of the branches of engineering.

One prominent engineer has the following to say:

“To be a successful engineer requires: 1st, ability to meet and do business with one’s fellow men in a pleasing way; 2nd, the possession of a mind that is able to grasp big problems and to prepare satisfactory solutions to these problems quickly; 3rd, ability to hold one’s temper under trying conditions; and 4th, willingness and ability to render the same courteous treatment to the individual who has but little business to do, as to the individual having big business interests that need attention.”

The following story related by Boyles, formerly of the Iron Age, illustrates the kind of men who make successful engineers:

“A bright young lad, with a clear title to write A.B. and M.E. after his name, went to work in a shop where an air compressor was used under somewhat peculiar circumstances. His duty was to run this compressor, keep it clean, and do whatever else the foreman thought him fit for. No one knew that he was an engineer with a degree, or that he could have played schoolmaster to the foreman or superintendent. He took good care of the machine under his charge, but the governor gave trouble, and the representative of the makers was sent for. He came, looked it over, and spent a fortnight trying to make it work properly. Then another man of higher rank came and spent another week on the same job. The young man answered questions respectfully and asked them so intelligently that he soon gathered a great deal of useful information.

“Among other facts he learned that a simple, practical and reliable governor for air compressors was greatly needed and that to devise one would repay effort. He go tout his books, read all available literature on air compressors and went to work on the problem. In about three months he had found a new principle in air compressor governors, had worked out its formula under all conditions of constant and of variable pressure, had made a full set of drawings, had them dated and witnessed, and was ready to ‘talk business.’ He approached the superintendent of his own shop, but got no other satisfaction than that the concern had no money to waste on amateur experiments with other peoples’ machines. He then wrote to the general manager of the works which built the compressor, giving a brief statement of what he had done. By return mail he received a railroad ticket and an invitation to visit the works.

“The result was that his idea was enthusiastically approved, and arrangements were made for patenting it in every country having a patent system, and the young man was offered a position on the engineering staff of the works, which he promptly accepted. When he returned to the shop in which he had originally worked, it was through the office instead of the gate; and his errand was to perfect the air compressor he had tended by equipping it with a governor. He is now the chief engineer of the concern he went to with nothing but a well considered useful idea.

“If the young engineer will use what he knows in such work as he has a chance to do, the fact of his capacity for more responsible duties will soon appear, and he will find that the road to the top is open to him whether in the shop in which his career begins, or in another, is immaterial. He will have more opportunities than he has time to avail himself of.”

Preparing for Engineering

Engineers are pretty well agreed that it would be unwise for a young man to attempt to follow engineering as a vocation without a college training in the subject. There are a few of the simpler kinds of work that can be done without much special training, and a bright person can pick up most of the necessary facts by working with others who are well trained, but in a technical subject like engineering, experience is a very slow schoolmaster.

One difficulty with undertaking to do work of this kind without adequate preparation is that just as a good start is made and work begins to come in, a person finds himself unable, on account of lack of training, to take the most desirable contracts. He is constantly laboring against a handicap.

A four years’ college course above the high school to which is added a number of years of practical experience, is the preparation usually considered necessary for the man who prepares as a thorough engineer. It is a mistake for a person to undertake difficult engineering work without being prepared for it. The effects of a failure in this field are very hard to overcome. A thorough training in mathematics and the fundamentals of science is necessary.

Architecture

According to Williams “is, in a limited sense, the art of designing and building houses, but in its widest sense it is the art of planning and erecting all kinds of structures and work from building material. The work constructed may be of many kinds; as bridges, pyramids, monuments, walls, towers, forts, ships, arches, aqueducts, gateways, shrines, tombs, amphitheatres, peristyles, arcades, pillars, pergolas, ocean piers, canal locks, viaducts, docks, etc. Architecture is the art of building.”

“It is the most useful of the fine arts and the most noble of the useful arts. “Art, utility, sanitation, economy, and safety are its subjects.”

John Galen Harvard, Architect of the University of California, says: “No other art of profession requires in its followers such a combination of qualities as does architecture. The soul of the poet, the eyes of the painter, the practicality of the shopkeeper and the mechanical knowledge of the master craftsmen are the attributes of the ideal architect. Probably no man ever possessed all of these qualities in sufficient degree to deserve the appellation, “an ideal architect”; yet there have been great men who have proved that the real in architecture can be brought close to the ideal. These are the men who have discerned that beauty and utility, architecture’s prime elements are closely related, and can be brought together in harmonious and impressive unities.

“Many men who follow the profession of architect cannot, or do not, express in their work this dual nature of the art. Some of them are able builders. They erect most convenient houses, excellent shelters from rains and snows, the cold and heat; but I think that nature desires that those who raise permanent structures in her domain shall give them a beauty in keeping with her own. Those who overlook this, violate universal harmony. Others in the profession err in the opposite direction. Forgetting that all material things have a foundation in Mother Earth, they make designs of buildings that are veritable castles in the air – charming, but impossible, unless reduced to practicality by others. The first of these classes are builders; the second, artists; neither, in my opinion are true architects.”

Preparation for Architecture

The training of an architect cannot be too broad. A person who wishes to follow this occupation should have a good knowledge of art, history, science, and business. He must be a designer of the new as well as a follower of the old. In Europe, training has in the past been given by apprenticeship, whereas in America, most of the architects have received their training in technical schools. In addition to study at an institution, a man who is preparing himself as an architect should do considerable traveling in order to study the better examples of architecture; otherwise his breadth of view will be limited. He would do well to spend a number of years working with a well established architect before beginning for himself.

SUGGESTED QUESTIONS

1. Show the relationship of engineering and architecture.
2. Name as many branches of engineering as you know and tell what each deals with.
3. Describe some of the great engineering works of the world.
4. Why is it economy to pay an architect and an engineer to plan structures and to supervise construction?
5. What preparation should an engineer and an architect have?
6. What do you think of the outlook in each of the various branches of engineering?
7. Why are history and geography desirable subjects for the architect to know?



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