Art in Engineering — The Need for a New Criticism

by David P. Billington, (M.ASCE), Prof. of Civ. Engrg.; Princeton Univ., Princeton, NJ,

Serial Information: Engineering Issues: Journal of Professional Activities, 1973, Vol. 99, Issue 4, Pg. 499-511

Document Type: Journal Paper


First comes a description of three categories of structures with esthetic appeal: those designed purely for utility (primitive rope suspension bridges), those designed for beauty (Sidney Opera House), and those designed consciously for both elegance and utility. The paper then gives the elements needed for their criticism: feeling or emotion, interpretation or analysis, and judgment based on theory. Three past theories of building are then described: (1) a geometric theory rising from Renaissance ideals of harmony; (2) a rational theory arising from Gothic ideals of structure; and (3) a sculptural theory coming both as a reaction to more disciplined ideals and as a romantic interpretation of the possibilities with modern construction materials. A more detailed discussion is given of a fourth theory that arose from the Dutch modern art group called de Stijl. An example of the latter is the Berenplaat Water Treatment Plant which is described.

Subject Headings: Bridge design | Water treatment plants | Suspended structures | Suspension bridges | Construction materials | Aesthetics | Residential buildings | Human factors

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