Karl Terzaghi – The Engineer as Artist

Karl Terzaghi is one of the leading minds that has guided modern engineering. This book follows Terzaghi’s development of soil mechanics, from humble academic beginnings to in-situ problem-solving methods. The depth of the case studies described by Richard Goodman in “The Engineer as Artist” is really quite astonishing and educational, albeit a bit sensationalized. Beside the geologic and geotechnical, Terzaghi’s philosophical leanings are also stressed — important lessons for any engineer. Here are a few of my favourite:

“…Teachers should avoid introducing generalized rules, [Terzaghi] asserted, because such technical simplifications are the products of long experience and should remain the personal property of the originator…”

“…The difficult points of irrigation lie neither with respect to financing nor with the technical details but in colonization of the land. An excellent engineering solution is a requirement for success but does not guarantee success…”

“…When utilizing past experience in the design of a new structure we proceed by analogy and no conclusion by analogy can be considered valid unless all the vital factors involved in the cases subject to comparison are practically identical. Experience does not tell us anything about the nature of these factors and many engineers who are proud of their experience do not even suspect the conditions required for the validity of their mental operations. Hence our practical experience can be very misleading unless it combines with it a fairly accurate conception of the mechanics of the phenomena under consideration…”

Terzaghi lived in an interesting time: seeing the turn of the century, two world wars, a depression, and a rapid influx of scientific discovery. He led an astonishing career that beckoned him around the world. And he even worked here in BC!


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