The origins of modern structural engineering

Bill Addis
University of Cambridge

Bill Addis will present some of the developments that led to the emergence of modern structural engineering during the 19th and 20th centuries. The crucial step was the introduction of cast and wrought iron as substitutes for traditional materials - stone, timber and brick – in the late 18th century. Engineers had to develop new ways of using these materials for unprecedented types of structure such as railway bridges and stations. They also, for the first time, had to optimize the structures they built in order to minimise their cost and weight. This led to the birth of ‘structural design’ as we know it today.

The structural design process differs fundamentally from architectural design. It consists in devising structural forms which serve both architectural and functional needs, while also ensuring that the forms function efficiently as structures and which safely carry all the loads imposed on them – self-weight, wind and seismic loads – down to robust foundations. Through application of this process, the engineering designer must develop sufficient confidence that the proposed design will function safely during its long service life. To this end they have benefited from a growing body of empirical data, developments in structural science, and the use of reduced-scale physical models – all techniques which are still used today to design the structures of tomorrow.

The lecture (in German) will open the exhibition "Visionäre und Alltagshelden. Ingenieure - Bauen - Zukunft". Registration under

For more than 30 years Bill Addis has been actively involved in the history of construction with the Institution of Structural Engineers History Study Group and the Construction History Society, in particular the history of structural engineering, building materials and construction techniques. He has published over 100 books on these themes. As editor of the peer-reviewed journals Construction History and Engineering History and Heritage, Bill has developed specific knowledge on heritage projects and built up a wide network of contacts throughout Europe.

Video des Vortrags (HD)