ORIGIN: Starting the Conversation

Engineers on Vacation!

07.19.23 by Kyle Haskett
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You can take an engineer out of the office, but you can’t take the engineer out of their brain.

An engineering degree is, at its essence, a degree in advanced problem solving, and I realize that everyone is not like me. Some people can accept the world as it is and don't ponder the wonders around them. I more often can't turn my brain away from wondering, investigating and analyzing. I think most engineers can probably relate to this.

I think a deep fascination drives most engineers to look at things and how they work. In our hearts, we are very curious people who like solving puzzles, and we can find puzzles everywhere.

My family vacationed at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, a few years ago. As an introverted engineer, the crowds can be a lot, but if you can power through, Disney offers some genuinely amazing structural engineering marvels.

Disney's Animal Kingdom has a section of Pandora from the Avatar films. In those, Pandora has floating sky islands. These are probably computer-generated images, but they recreated them for this park area.

As I walked up to the floating sky islands, I thought it would be pretty simple to determine how they could create the illusion of floating islands. I was wrong. My ten-plus years of structural engineering allowed me to know the principles behind how they could engineer this illusion, but the specifics were beyond me. The entire rest of the day, I was trying to build the structural model and analyze the basic forces through the connections. While my family had a magical time with all the rides, sites, snacks, etc., I was consumed with the desire to see the actual structural model they used to design this feat.

Curious to see if other engineers at Wallace Design Collective were like me, I emailed to see. This time I was not wrong. Below are some other times we have been engineers in the wild.

Kenna Chapin, PE, SE | Associate and Structural Engineer

I have several pictures from the distilleries that we visited in Kentucky. My husband laughed at me because I was looking at the steel framing during the bourbon tour. Some items that stood out were:

This interesting new modern distillery with a beautiful steel superstructure.

At an old distillery, I was trying to figure out the ends of the handrails and framing on the second floor, when I noticed a brace that someone had been for placement of a mechanical vent.

Mary Ziegler | Civil Engineering Intern

In my junior year of college (spring 2021), my civil engineering friends and I went to Fort Gibson Lake for the weekend. During that semester, we were all taking hydrology and hydraulics classes. So naturally, when I was driving back, I had to take the route across the dam. The group of us nerded out so much about the dam and the lake that we stopped to get out and see it. We even took a photo and sent it to our teachers!

Aaron Coonley, PE, SE | Structural Engineer

A few years ago on my honeymoon, my wife and I went to Italy and made stops in Florence and Rome, among other places. I can vividly remember two days during that trip after seeing historic structures, and I couldn't get my mind off how these structures were built/designed/constructed. In Florence, we went up to the top of Brunelleschi's dome, and throughout the arduous climb to the top, all I could think about was, "How in the world was this designed over 720 years ago and constructed over 580 years ago?" It was all I could think about the rest of the day and evening, probably to my wife's chagrin. I spent that evening Googling the dome's history and trying to learn how such a structure was designed and constructed.

The other part of that trip that piqued my structural engineering mind was in Rome. The only reason we even went to Rome, since my wife had already spent time there before we met each other, was because our flights went through there. As a structural engineer, I was not going to be in Rome without seeing all the historic feats of structural engineering, especially the Pantheon. We arrived in Rome in the afternoon and decided to take a leisurely stroll, as we had a scheduled tour of the Colosseum and Roman ruins the next day. I can vividly remember just turning a corner and there was the Pantheon. Going inside and seeing the hole in the roof, learning it was 2000 years old and was built of unreinforced concrete, just blew my mind. Once again, I couldn't get it out of my head and spent much of the evening on my phone trying to learn how an unreinforced concrete structure could possibly withstand the elements for over 2000 years.

Heidi Wallace, PE | Civil Engineer

I was in Segovia, Spain, in 2019, and they still have a Roman aqueduct. All I could think about was how impressive and seemingly impossible it was that they could make that constant slope for the water on top without modern technology. The terrain varies greatly; they used stones for the construction, and the height above grade is significant. It would be an impressive build even with today's design and construction technology.

Pryce Joyner, PE, SE | Associate and Structural Engineer

We love to go to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. A big draw for me is mountain biking there. When we step into the National Park, I'm always amazed as I look up at the Arches and other rock formations carved by the Creator. It makes me wonder how far a rock formation can arch and how thin it can get before it fails. In some of the literature, they show some other formations used to be there, but weathered so thin that they eventually lost the arch between the supports on each side. I am always amazed and inspired by the architecture and engineering in Creation.

Kevin Bahner, PE, SE | Principal and Structural Engineer

I recently took a "guys' trip" with my son and friends to Texas. We hit up Six Flags Over Texas one day, and I saw this beast of a ride for the first time that blew my mind. I thought about the size of foundations we have to install for buildings for lateral and overturning forces, or even just sizing a simple light pole base, and thought about what the foundations and anchorage requirements would be for this monstrosity. Safe to say, we skipped this one!

There are genuinely some incredible designs, structures and features out there waiting for us to discover on vacation. While you can take an engineer out of the office, we never leave our engineering skills behind. Engineers are problem solvers, and even when someone else has already solved the problem, we are still curious until we can figure it out for ourselves.

Do you have any stories of marvels you saw on vacation and couldn't stop thinking about? We would love to hear about it in our comments!

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Kyle Haskett, PE


Kyle received both his Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering and Master of Science in Civil Engineering-Structural Emphasis from the University of Oklahoma. He is…

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