ENGINEERING: pragmatic construction devoid of the artistic and compromised by financial constraints

Engineering is a discipline whereby the demand for a pragmatic structure or device is responded to by the creation of an object which conforms to minimum specifications only. Thus it is that windmills are cobbled together out of whatever bits of spare lumber and metal brackets are lying around and that is the end of it. Bridges are just lumps of steel bolted and welded into a framework, or set into a concrete matrix, in such a manner that heavy vehicles don't collapse them. Power pylons are triangulated lattice structures capable of keeping the kilovolts well above the local traffic in all but the worst of adverse weather conditions. The engineering considerations only attempt to accommodate for the vagaries of the cosmos by using verified models, with informed safety factors, which reduce the probability of failure to commercially acceptable levels. Money is not provided for any parameter to be in excess of the least values realistically possible. Bolts have no more tensile strength than what is necessary to resist the expected stresses. After it has cured, any concrete that won't crack under test compression will do.

Money is certainly not provided for enhancing the object artistically in any manner whatsoever. Artistic considerations for environmental and cultural enhancements are entirely outside the engineering brief. In many circumstances such stark functionalism is quite justified. In the battle field soldiers don't care much about the artistic merits or otherwise of a portable military bridge. Fifty metres below the surface, scuba divers are not that interested in the cosmetic appearance of their air valves and gauges. The obvious reality, that many engineered objects have been styled and been given a desirability make-over, is a consequence of market forces and advertising perspectives. The engineering achievements incorporated in the latest automobile are not emphasized to technologically challenged customers, but its sociological prestige value is enhanced instead... to psychiatric proportions. The engineering is subordinated and bypassed and the marketing promoters disguise the function with fashionable form.

Such a phenomenon might lead many to suppose that engineers were culturally deprived, artistically inarticulate and to not have the capabilities to enhance their detailed appreciation of the properties of materials with creative art forms. This is quite simply not true. Many engineers would relish the opportunity to embellish their windmills, pylons and bridges with sculpture and mural but are prevented from making their aesthetic contribution by the cramps of modern commercial indifference. Certainly the most significant consequence of this suppression is that many engineers have been forced to do watercolours... or something similar... as a recreational activity, in an attempt to compensate for this imbalance in their lives. It should only be a matter of self-assertion to rectify the situation. Having all the intricate details of the design to attend to they have been outmanoeuvred by the managerial and advertising fraternity who have nothing else to think about. To enhance future engineering designs with elements of aesthetic and artistic functionality, the pragmatic course of action is to encourage artistic expression as an intrinsic factor in engineering training. All the visual, musical and sculptural talents of the potential engineer should be fostered and developed, so that these skills can be incorporated into any design and construction projects. Attempting to develop engineering skills in artists on the other hand would be basically futile, since no artists have any concept whatsoever as to what a 'volt', a 'joule', or a 'newton' was, and usually only have a nodding familiarity with the idea of a 'meter' and a 'second'.

The one engineering skill which continues to provide global hoarders with an intractable dilemma is that of designed-in obsolescence. In order to sustain a cycle of design, construction and distribution that they can participate in, engineers have adopted the strategy of ensuring at least one component in any project has a highly predictable life expectancy... usually about half of what might generally be thought reasonable. When one of these components of an engineered object wears out on schedule, many of the more practical and pragmatic backyard owners are most reluctant to immediately dispose of the entire entity. If a spare part is not readily available at a reasonable price it might be able to be fixed with some adhesive or gardening-twine or, if all else fails, it may be most useful as a cannibalized source of creative enterprise for other projects. It is the fate of most such junk however, never to be resurrected as anything but to remain as a barely identifiable entity in a stockpile of mould, oxidization and disintegration. The enduring irony for the curator of such heaps of crap... who periodically deem it necessary to conduct purges of the blatantly useless... is that the need for a crumbling piece of junk will always become evident immediately after it has been disposed of.