How not to design a bridge

This excerpt is from The Good Roads Guide published by the UK Highways Agency.

Engineers and architects

1.6 There are at least two ways not to design a bridge:

  • to decide what it should look like and then work out how to make it stand up and how to build it; 
  • to work out the most economical structural/constructional solution and then decide how to make it look nice.

1.7 The first is the architect’s pitfall, the second the engineer’s. In each case, by the time the decision has been made it is almost certainly too late to get it right. All the important issues have to be kept in mind from the start.

1.8 A small minority of civil engineers become bridge designers, and their academic training generally deals with appearance within the process of bridge design at a very elementary level. Architects learn through integrated design with particular emphasis on appearance all through their training and in practice are constantly aware of the aesthetic implications of their decisions. Therefore they can make a valuable contribution to bridge design, especially on sensitive sites and on major structures. Although architects do not normally have the technical background to design bridges, their experience in integrated design can help improve the appearance of bridges. Therefore it can be of benefit for a bridge design team to have an architect as adviser. 

Engage a single professional, you get a myopic view of the world. Engage a team of professionals and you have a chance. No city should ever hand a major project over to one department to handle. Particularly during the design phase, it should always be a blending of values and perspectives. And when one of your professionals starts to reflexively say something can't be done because it conflicts with their priorities, make that person sit in the back of the room (or replace them with someone of similar expertise but who is a better team member).

A pharmacutical representative is going to give you much different advice on your high blood pressure than a yoga instructor. It is not always what you ask but who you ask.

The answer: ask more people. Team of rivals.

Thanks to my good friend Joe Minicozzi for passing that quote along. He's an architect and a planner who asks brilliant questions of many different people for a living. It has made him brilliant in turn.