Monday 30 April 2018


I was at a happening at Visual, the Arts venue on the other side of town to The Institute. Creativity and Engineering: a new perspective, was the local contribution to Engineers Week (24th Feb - 2nd Mar) . . . it was only 48 days and 10 minutes late in starting. That may have been because the original gig was cancelled because of Storm Emma. I guess it was worth making an 80km round trip to hear what three Engineers had to say about a) how they started in the field b) how they left and c) where the ideas come from. There was a bit of fairy story about the night "Once upon a time, there were three engineers. One was a civil engineer working for a multinational; one was an electronic engineer working in academia; and one was an engineer, but isn't anymore because he became a writer and artist . . .".  The civil engineer claimed to be driven by fear. As a teenager, he wanted to be a sculptor but was told that he'd never earn a penny that way and was bullied by fear of penury into doing engineering at college. As a structural engineer, he tended to make things more boxy, fatter than they needed to be: driven by the fear that an under-engineered bridge or building would collapse and kill people - true dat in Sweetwater, FL!

But I wept a silent tear at the advice the not-yet engineer got from his father. How many children are turned, pushed, shoved away from developing their true selves towards a safe career that will pay the rent but will be an existence rather than a life worth living? You can always have music / art / sculpture / dancing as a hobby, say the adults in the room. But you won't because the paying job will suck you dry so there is no spare capacity for The Arts and eventually another dried husk of a wasted life will blow away into the sunset like so much tumbleweed. Was I here before? I was!  But I've also flagged a couple of stories where, late in life but not too late, a sheep-farmer and a geologist have become stone-mason and sculptor. And I was writing about true-to-self in the music world earlier this April.

The third creative engineer had, during his final years at school, been taken by Technical Drawing, a subject no longer available on the Leaving Certificate. TechyD was also a turn-on for The Boy who relished the challenge of rendering 3-D objects on a flat page so that their quality and properties was readily apparent. I don't need to remind you that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a treatise on the Metaphysics of Quality. What do you do with the skills of TechyD? You apply for Engineering School and you qualify and you work in the industry for 15 years until you finish up as a site-engineer on a new shopping centre in Berlin. Being a qualified engineer in Anglophonia presents a whole set of challenges. Doing the same work with but sketchy German poses a clatter of other problems. You have to learn the German terms of box-girder, gusset-plate, column, truss, concrete-poker [that would be Pneumatischerbetonvibrator] and remember them the next day. Because a comms failure between you the engineer and Gunter the foreman, and Hans-Albrecht the crane-driver could have fatal consequences now or 10 years in the future. Looking back through his technical vocabulary note-book sometime later, the engineer realised that the list of words was a record of the progress of the project from foundations to flag and from that he wrote his first novel. That was the first step in his journey from building site to atelier.

At the end of the night I asked a question "Is it a good thing to have women in engineering because they bring a different worldview or skillset to the table when engineering projects are discussed". The consensus seemed to be that it is because they do. I was glad to hear that because this I firmly believe. Actually, it's not only women who are needed to foster a synergistic creativity round the engineers project table. We need people in wheel-chairs, people from the tropics, people who grew up deaf and people who have never played Rugger at a posh school. They all see things differently and their complementary combination may just cause something really different to be built upon the Earth. 

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