Our goal at the Chair of Conceptual &
Structural Design is to fully realize the potential of every
individual instead of letting their creativity dwindle as a result of
stringent rational and analytical studies. This is very important to
us, because Civil Engineering unlike other technical and scientific
disciplines combines knowledge and creativity. This combination is
such that allows us to create a structure, which over and above just
utilitarian and economical uses, also makes a contribution to the
building culture. And this holistic quality should be the goal of our
actions as engineers.
In practice, building planning demands a synergy of knowledge and creativity. However the teaching in higher education is often reduced to just fundamentally realizing the theoretical requirements into material form. The groundwork to encourage creativity in design is seldom present. To remove these shortcomings, we keep conceptualization and design project oriented while also focusing on comprehensive understanding of all available materials. This is why we divide the process of conceptualization and design into 4 working steps: Design, Modeling, Measurement and Detailing. These steps orient themselves to the work methods of a building planner. Naturally this planning process is not a standardized or linear process.
Actually the process is quite chaotic and complex. In order to make a sustainable, economical and a perfectly formed structure many compromises need to be made. The working steps described here can be seen as basic guidelines in understanding the building process. Design: In this first and therefore, an especially important step, the concept of the structure and significant details are determined. The design corresponds to the location, which means it depends on the physical, topographical, technical, constructional, political and cultural demands.
Modeling: In this step the concept is converted to abstract models. These models serve as a prototype for static or dynamic force calculations, determining loads, as well as determining the internal forces and deformations.
Measurement: In this step the sizes of the members are determined. This depends on the type and combination of various chosen construction materials.
Construction Detailing: The last step consists of final detailing of all connections and joints for the structure as well as the drawing of plans.
With these steps we fulfill the traditional academic curriculum. The fields of modeling and measurement are present in the classical training method but are often treated in isolation. Our goal is to incorporate it into the fields of design and detailing.
Naturally comes the question, at which point in time should these “new” elements be introduced in the studies. The design of the structure constitutes the first of the planning steps. And correspondingly these conceptual and creative processes should also take place at the beginning of the studies. However the entire process of conceptualizing and designing in civil engineering requires the so called “Basics”, also known as mathematics, statics, mechanics, structural physics, computation and construction materials. For example without the understanding of behaviour of mechanics in cracked concrete, or the concepts of creep, shrinking there can be no proper conceptualization of a bridge. Just like design itself is a compromise between exclusive requirements concerning safety, usability, durability, aesthetic, and economy, we should also look for such a compromise in the learning process. The challenge lies in teaching both the basic theory and the requirements of conceptualization and design. From the beginning of course the students are taught side by side in implementing the theoretical basics to conceptualization and design. In the first few years more fundamentals rather than design are concentrated on, whereas in higher semesters the focus is more in the direction of project oriented design of structures.
A successful realization for teaching conceptualization and design is to assume that we keep some distance from the traditional material oriented teaching of construction subjects in civil engineering studies. Out of historical reasons, in most universities, chairs for concrete construction, steel construction, and wood construction were established. However the multitude of construction materials and material combinations available and used today in building engineering shows that these are not enough. It is also valid that modern developments should go more strongly into teaching and research. And following that, the academic curriculum should also represent the newest state of technology and should not celebrate the status quo of the 1970s. Moreover, the client should neither order a concrete box-girder bridge, or a building with steel skeleton construction. He should want to have a good bridge or a good building. Only a good design and capability to choose across various kinds of materials or a suitable material combination, leads to a more holistic quality and with that a good structure.
Therefore, it appears almost imperative for such an implementation of design and conceptualization with knowledge of materials to be propagated. That which Jörg Schlaich and Kurt Schaefer were the first to start at the University of Stuttgart. We have adopted this idea and implemented it on our coursework. That means, that in our Masters course, instead of the traditional Steel, Concrete and Wood lectures, we have adopted the type of structure as the focal point, i.e. Bridge Engineering, Building Engineering, and Plane Load Bearing Structures. This leads to automatically a stronger regard for the field of design and construction.
A thing of significance is also the knowledge of the history of the art of structural engineering. When questioned about a favorite structural engineer or a favorite structure, most students in the first semester have no answer. At best they can mention the name of a famous architect and their “landmark” project. It is difficult to believe that even after many semesters at the University, big names like Röbling, Telford, Eiffel, Maillart, Suchov, Torroja or Leonhardt does not evoke any reactions. Is there any music student who has never heard the name of Bach?
These ideas have found an entry in the new Bachelor and Master system. With comprehensive lessons on materials and building engineering basics and master subjects like bridge engineering, buildings, and plane load bearing structures it is aimed at strengthen the creative competence in this field. Our curriculum comprises of the fundamentals of plane load bearing structures, fundamentals of conceptualization and design, projects, design seminars, competitions, and finally excursions.
In the first semester of Bachelor studies there are lectures on “fundamentals of structures” a creative and constructive introduction to civil engineering. Next to the simplest principles like beams, foundation, hanging cables and columns we give an overview of a holistic context in which we must base our work and our projects on, and which can adequately answer the building needs in our society. For that we establish an overview of the historical development of the art of structural engineering. What is also interesting is that in this case the development of construction, materials and computational methods are placed directly in relation. Teaching these are implemented through assignments, project work and exhibitions. This brings the students onto the technical conflicts through group work, independent work and independent verbalization or expression of various circumstances in building engineering.
In third Bachelor semester the students learn “fundamentals of conceptualization and design” (Prof. Schmid), in which they realize a complete project and how to translate building requirements to a concept. With that come the first simple construction rules into application.
The complete experience is then bundled in the fifth semester of Bachelors in a Basic Project. Here a simple design exercise is in general planned. A bigger focus is laid on the interactions in space of an all inclusive planning process. All working steps of conceptualization and design is taken into account: Design, Modeling, Calculation and Construction Detailing.
Once the many construction engineering types and basics of design are grounded, in the Masters course, the design seminar takes place (Prof. Geißler, Prof. Schlaich, Prof. Schmidt). In method we pick up classical elements of the creative training in architecture and also in parts try to have our students work with architecture students in a real project. However it must be noted here, that for a engineering student it is always important, themselves to experience the positive force and potential of a chaotic design process and not let the often more nimble and eloquent architecture student take anything away from this process. Therefore even with regards to having a good working relation with architects, having a separate design seminar, from engineers and only for engineering students is indispensible. It is just as important as interdisciplinary project work across various technical fields.
In all semesters the students are asked to see, perceive, analyze and discuss. This we nurture and support with our various kinds of excursions and regular site visits. We encourage our students to interact with other engineers and discuss with us and their fellow class mates, and also to come to their own understanding and view point through critical analysis of the given problem.
All the elements introduced here have only one goal. To help realize the creative potential of a engineering student from the beginning of their studies and to not let it impoverish through stringent analytical methods. There is definitely scope for optimization and surely there are still other methods which might be more promising. And through feedback from the industry we can determine how successful we are in our endeavors. But already it shows in through evaluations and the number of students who are studying with us, that we here in TU Berlin are on a very promising path.