Engineers can be romantics. They can play the role of Cupid more often than not. Sounds too good to be true? Structural and civil engineers are frequently called into action when iconic symbols of love require maintenance or renovation. What would we do if there are no engineers to maintain the Eiffel Tower or rebuild the walkway at Niagara Falls every year? There would be many disappointed couples during Valentine’s Day and anniversaries. Lovers would need to find alternative locations for that first kiss together, a marriage proposal, or a memorable wedding. These moments are brought especially to you by dedicated people who paid attention during physics, math, and engineering classes.
All kidding aside, DCI staff would like to commemorate Valentine’s Day with this special post about romantic places and their structural significance as built environments.
The Eiffel Tower
Designer Gustave Eiffel was one of the first engineers to recognize the importance of wind forces on tall structures. He deliberately designed the lattice surface and trusses of the Eiffel Tower so that wind gusts would have no areas to “grab” onto the structure. When wind forces are at its strongest in Paris, the tower will sway only a few inches.
“Love lock” bridges around the world
Traveling couples who visit France or Italy find their way to the Pont Des Arts in Paris or the Ponte del Accademia in Venice. As a gesture of their unwavering love, they place a lock on the bridge and throw away the key to the river below. In 2014, one of the bridge panels fell off the Pont des Arts because of the weight of the padlocks. Parisian officials are in a conundrum about the safety and aesthetics of the bridge, but do not want to deter tourists from a special trip experience. Venice city officials routinely remove the locks from their bridge with bolt cutters and fine people caught placing locks on the handrails. Public safety trumps symbolic love in this case. As an alternative, consider travelling to Montevideo, Uruguay where lovers are encouraged to place a love token on the Locks Fountain and it will not be removed.
The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal was built from traditional Indian design principles and civil engineering, such as interlocking sandstone blocks. It was constructed on the bank of the Yumana River from 1632 to 1643. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan commissioned this breathtaking mausoleum for his wife Mumtaz Mahal as a monument to their undying love for each other. Due to the Taj Mahal’s close proximity to the river, the water table is high and the soil underneath the structure is unstable. Jahan and his engineers designed massive piers which rest on a series of deep rubble covering connected concrete arches. Wells were dug to absorb groundwater before it could reach the foundation. Since the Taj Mahal’s foundation has barely shifted since its existence, the ingenious design is a testament to Mughal-era engineering.
Golden Gate Bridge
The dramatic “International Orange” painted on the Golden Gate Bridge was inspired by the temporary primer applied to the steel during shipment. The consulting architect Irving Morrow chose the signature color because it blended with the warm colors of the region and would be visible for ships. During the bridge’s construction, Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss emphasized safety for the building crew. The Golden Gate Bridge was the first American project site where workers were dismissed if they didn’t follow the strict safety guidelines imposed by the engineer.
Niagara Falls became known as “The Honeymoon Capital of the World” after several U.S. and international dignitaries spent their honeymoon trips there in the 1800s and early 1900s. Hurricane Deck is built 150 feet away from the base of the falls. One of the waterfalls that can be reached by the wood plank walkway is called the “Bridal Veil.” Each November, Hurricane Deck is dismantled and then rebuilt in the summer for safety reasons and extreme winter weather conditions. When it comes time to rebuild the deck, the builders wedge planks into the terrain below to create the new deck support.
The next time you come across a structural or civil engineer, give him or her a big hug as an expression of gratitude – unless the individual is uncomfortable with the idea. A more realistic approach is simply to say “thank you” and wish them a Happy Valentine’s Day!
About the Author
Rose Bechtold, Communications Specialist | Rose comes from a journalism and technical writing background. She is in her element while in research mode and naturally immerses herself in expert knowledge by interviewing staff members about new subjects. In her spare time, Rose practices plein-air sketching of buildings and random scenes around town.