EventsSuccess and Failure in Engineering

Success and Failure in Engineering

Henry Petroski

Duke University USA

Event from
07 May
Photo from Henry Petroski



Engineering is about making and doing things that have not been done before. Case studies of past failures thus provide invaluable informa­tion for the design of future successes. Conversely, designs based on ­the extrapolation of successful experience alone can lead to failure. 

This paradox was explored in the context of historical case studies, including the design of ocean liners and also of suspension bridges, ­which from the 1850s through the 1930s evolved from John Roebling’s enormous successes – culminating in the Brooklyn Bridge – to struc­tures that oscillated in the wind and, in the case of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, twisted itself apart and collapsed in 1940. Lessons learned from these cases and others can be generalized to apply across a broad spectrum of engineering structures and systems.

Henry Petroski

Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University, Durham/USA. His current research activity focuses on the interrelationship between success and failure in design. He has written on the nature of invention and the history of technology in numerous publications.


Photo: istock Huyangshu
Brooklyn Bridge N.Y Photo: Jean nicolas Nault
Brooklyn Bridge N.Y Photo: Jean nicolas Nault