Structural Aesthetics

by Mario Salvadori, (Hon.M.ASCE), James Renwick Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering; Columbia University, 2 Beekman Place, New York, NY 10022,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1991, Vol. 61, Issue 11, Pg. 57-59

Document Type: Feature article


When the design and construction of a building was the responsibility of a single individual, interaction between the aesthetics of architecture and the demands of structure did not exist as a problem. Today, architecture is a final result of the collaboration of large teams of architects and consulting technologists; and although the architect is responsible for the aesthetics of the building, the structural engineer exerts a strong influence, closely followed by the mechanical consultant. It is fairly obvious that our aesthetic reaction to visual structural messages depends not only on our cultural background, but also, and most importantly, on our atavistic experiences in the real world. But these structural intuitions are often modified by purely aesthetic considerations, often determined by an element of surprise that pleases us even when contradicting our subconscious structural demands. Semiotics, the science of nonverbal communication, gives insight into the aesthetic component of buildings, bridges and other structures. What we see is not always what we expect.

Subject Headings: Aesthetics | Consulting services | Building design | Bridge components | Architecture | Architects | Team building

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