Civil engineering is so named because it is the branch of applied science which addresses ordinary citizens and their fundamental concerns (water, shelter and transportation). But does the current practice of civil engineering actually concern itself with the needs of ordinary citizens in the context of their proximate surroundings? What does our contemporary technology of civil engineering solutions say about how we value people and planet? What can be learned from historical and local solutions? For a long time, engineers were constrained by limited ability to analyse and calculate. Such limitation naturally steered engineers, if not to efficiency, at least to minimal waste when addressing the problem at hand. As a result, civil engineering has long deferred to techno-solutions (i.e., use of novel technologies to address apparent problems) as the default approach to civil engineering challenges. But designs (being after all, reified ideas) have consequences. Consider that North Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their lives indoors. It would appear that Churchill was on to more than just architectural critique when he declared, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” In order to develop quality and affordable solutions, several parameters need to be simultaneously evaluated including: life-cycle cost, engineering performance, and, increasingly, life-cycle sustainability. But what about historical and local solutions? To address this oft neglected area of information, a series of historical case studies have been completed comparing a series of traditional engineering/construction methods and their impact at scale. The study investigates apparently disparate cultures/technologies including: New England townships, Incan rope bridges, Kyoto canals, Persian Badgir and New Orleans levees to compare and contrast mediating effects of “sustainable” engineering solutions. The results both highlight the wisdom and efficiency of historical and local solutions and the inherent challenges of using such approaches at scale.
Joshua A Schultz, PhD, PE, LEED AP is an Associate Professor at Gonzaga University in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He specializes in structural and architectural engineering, particularly in areas of optimization and sustainability. Joshua regularly works with well-known engineering companies part-time including: PFS TECO, Nous Engineering and FORSE Consulting. In addition, Dr. Schultz runs his own private engineering firm providing services in design and forensic analysis. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Schultz worked at Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) in the Chicago, IL office.
Dr. Schultz is a licensed engineer and holds bachelor, master and doctorate degrees in architectural, structural and civil engineering. He has been a LEED Accredited Professional for over 15 years and has been an Envision Professional (inactive) since 2015. Dr. Schultz has over a decade of progressive industry experience designing and delivering projects.