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Written by on June 8, 2015

Cal Poly Authors: Collaborations in Architecture and Engineering

Friday, May 29, architect Clare Olsen and engineer Sinead Mac Namara spoke about their book, Collaborations in Architecture and Engineering at Conversations with Cal Poly Authors. Olsen is assistant professor of architecture at Cal Poly and Mac Namara is associate professor at Syracuse University. Mac Namara teaches structural engineering courses for the School of Architecture and mechanics courses for the College of Engineering.

Olsen and Mac Namara co-taught a course in architecture and engineering at Syracuse. After giving a presentation about their experience, Routledge approached them about writing a book. Olsen and Mac Namara agreed and researched 10 case studies from some of the most prominent firms in the world.

“It was so enriching, and gave us so much content, and helped us in our teaching,” Olsen said about writing the book.

Why these case studies?

“We wanted to demonstrate that innovative work does not happen through just architecture or engineering,” Olsen said. She went on to say that innovative work happens when a lot of different people from different backgrounds work together in a collaborative process.

They also used case studies to highlight the mentorship that some architects and engineers experienced, as one way to illustrate that these professionals did not know how to do everything at first.

“We are trying to teach students that it’s okay not to know something,” Mac Namara said. Olsen and Mac Namara also taught this idea in their class, requiring architecture and engineering students pair up to complete a project. The students learned none of them could complete the project without their teammate.

Common themes

Olsen and Mac Namara talked about some commonalities they saw in most of the case studies.

“You found that a lot of these people [in the case studies] came from the same background and were mentored by the same people,” Mac Namara said. She also said that most everyone thought that engineering students needed to know how to draw.

They also found that every architect had their story of an engineer who either helped or hurt their design project. Architects can sometimes clash with engineers when they’re too focused on design, and not very focused on the structure.

“I’m in the not-falling-down business. I do not care what it looks like,” Mac Namara joked.

The divide between architects and engineers

Historically, the architect and engineer was a combined role, not divided like it is today, Mac Namara said. Now, not only has it been split into two jobs, but the people in those roles usually do not collaborate on their designs and projects.

“Now is a good time to look at why we are so separated and teach people about collaborations,” Mac Namara said.

“Collaboration is an important skill to teach,” Olsen added.

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