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The Life of an Architectural Engineer

Meet Victoria! An Architectural Engineer, read on to learn more about her job and some history about the Brooklyn Bridge.

How would you describe your job?

My job was custom-made just for me; being the first person to graduate Yale with a professional degree in mechanical engineering and architecture put me in a unique position in my company; I'm the communication between facades specialists, structural engineers, and architectural designers. My work includes research and development of parametric modeling tools as well as carrying out projects with our existing methods and tools. I'm currently in the process of grasping thermal and humidity modeling methods to help us perform these studies in-house.

What does your day to day look like?

Every day is different and I'm constantly learning something new; one day I'm on the construction site, another day I'm making documents representing the design intent to send over to the contractors. Other times I'm looking over assembly drawings sent over by contractors for our firm's approval. Then there are the days I'm writing scripts to streamline the modeling process and improve communication between the disciplines of our firm.

How did you end up in your job/field?

I've always wanted to design buildings--from the cold, drafty communist apartment boxes that I called home in Siberia, to the towering neo-gothic beacons of light in Manhattan, I've always viewed buildings as the greatest level of craft we can give to our fellow humans, as strange as that sounds. We do spend 90% of our lives indoors, so we must take on the responsibility of providing the building occupants with healthy air, sun exposure, thermal comfort, ergonomic setup, and mentally suitable surroundings for the intended work or leisure. When you factor in the reality that buildings account for over 40% of US electric usage, landfill waste, and carbon emissions, and consider the building's longevity in the face of changing climate patterns, it becomes nothing short of a carefully choreographed performance to turn the design idea into an operational machine for living. Every part of the process is just as satisfying as the completion of the project itself. My architectural education formally began in Brooklyn Technical High School, where the Architectural Engineering major had us build a two-story residential house consistent with the International Building Code. It was a drop in sea compared to the largest project in North America which my firm is currently working on, but it shows that these are core abilities in the Architectural discipline that are ubiquitous and unifying. I'm grateful for that.

What do you love most about your job?

My colleagues, endless room for professional growth, and Bagel Tuesdays.

What is your favorite example of a well engineered or well designed thing , and why is it your favorite?

The Brooklyn Bridge was the first steel suspension bridge ever made, and the largest by far at its time of completion. Large bridges before its time were just dreams. There was no connection between Brooklyn and Manhattan prior to it, but since the East River was one of the busiest waterways in the world, the bridge had to be tall enough despite its span to allow vessels passing underneath. John Roebling designed the structure but died of an on-site accident due to complications from a foot injury in 1869, just a year after construction began (steeled-toed shoes would have saved his life!) His daughter Emily taught herself as an engineer and carried out his instructions on-site while John was an invalid. His son Washington took over the following 13 years of construction as chief engineer, after returning from the Civil War as a distinguished Union officer. One of the most difficult decisions he had to make was to limit the depth to which the masts had to be dug into the bed of the river, for health reasons of the workers. In the end, Washington suffered from lung disease from spending more time underwater than anyone else on the project, but lived to see the bridge open to the public in 1883. The bridge is still a vital part of New York's transit system and is proudly displayed in many living-rooms as a work of art. In my mind, it's a work of persistence, bravery, ingenuity, and imagination.

What’s something you think people need to fix ?

I think we need to recognize that air is the least efficient medium for HVAC (Hating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) due to it heat capacity. We can have boiler rooms a tenth of their current size by replacing 14-inch wide dust air ducts with half-inch water-tubes in ceiling tiles if we keep the humidity monitored responsibly--and reduce the building's energy usage considerably. As a fun legend, before they were installed in the Yale School of Architecture, workers discovered a bed surrounded with cigarette butts of the floor of the air ventilation room, which supplied "clean conditioned air" to the architecture students and staff.

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