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Structural engineering can be dated back to some of the most significant ancient structures, such as the Pyramids of Giza, with the oldest being constructed in the 27th century BC. The pyramid structure was incredibly popular because people felt it was reliable and stable. Since then, structural engineering has come on leaps and bounds, so we decided to take a look back at its history and how it has developed over the years.

What Is Structural Engineering?

Structural engineering is the section of engineering that handles the design process of buildings and constructions, such as bridges. For more information about structural engineering, take a look at our previous blog!

What Does a Structural Engineer Do?

The main role of a structural engineer is to design buildings and large constructions, such as bridges, but they can also be involved in the design of machinery, vehicles and medical equipment. A structural engineer is responsible for ensuring that the design satisfies the criteria while also being safe.

Master Builder to Structural Engineer

During ancient and medieval history, most of the designing and construction for buildings and structures was carried out by artisans, who would rise to the role of master builder. As mentioned previously, there was no real theory knowledge of buildings or how structures stood, so everything was constructed following what had worked before. The transformation to the position of a structural engineer only really took place in the industrial revolution. During the Renaissance was when the physical science of structural engineering took place, and people started to understand how it worked.

A structural engineers’ drawings

The Start of Structural Engineering

For many years, there was no technical knowledge of how a building stood or what could cause a failure, so instead, everything was constructed in the same way as previously done. By building a structure the same way as before, people felt that if that worked once, it would work again. However, people soon found that this theory wouldn’t work and that they needed to experiment with new methods.

The Most Iconic Structural Failures in History

As people were not aware of the techniques and knowledge that we know today, many buildings and constructions failed.

Dee Bridge, 1847

On May 24th, 1847, the Dee Bridge collapsed as a train crossed over it; this resulted in five fatalities. The bridge was designed by Robert Stephenson who used cast iron girders that were reinforced with wrought iron struts. The reason for the collapse was the wrought iron did not reinforce the cast iron at all; this resulted in frequent flexing, which soon enough caused failure due to fatigue.

First Tacoma Narrows Bridge, 1940

The First Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed in 1940 due to the swaying between the bridge and the winds passing through; this is known as aeroelastic flutter. After this failure, a better understanding was achieved, and further research was completed, which resulted in many bridges being altered to prevent collapsing or a similar disaster.

Ronan Point, 1968

A 22-story residential block in the London borough of Newham collapsed in 1968 due to a small gas explosion on the 18th floor which caused a structural wall panel to be blown away from the building. The failure of the single panel caused a whole corner of the building to collapse, and this happened due to the tower being constructed with precast concrete. The panel was blown away due to inadequate reinforcement of steel passing through it. Furthermore, this failure meant that the weight carried by the panel could not be redistributed. After the collapse of Ronan Point, new building regulations were introduced to prevent disproportionate collapse. Many buildings that were similar to Ronan Point were soon altered or demolished in order to avoid the same disaster occurring again. 

Structural Engineering Today

Today, structural engineers require a significant understanding of static and dynamic loading and the structures that can resist them. They are required to be somewhat creative due to the complexity of modern structures. Typically, a structural engineer will have an undergraduate degree (which usually takes four to five years), which is followed by a minimum of three years in professional practice before they can be recognised as fully qualified. Here at ANY Weld, we are steel fabricators based in the UK, and we carry out projects across the country. We are experts in steelwork and glass; from home installation to large scale industrial developments, we work on a variety of projects. So, if you would like to use our services, please do not hesitate to get in contact! Give us a call on 01271 860794 or drop us an email at [email protected]. Alternatively, you can get in touch via our social media channels – Tweet us at @ANY_Weld or visit our Facebook page!