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Engineers should collaborate with architects on bridges, says panel

The 2012 workshop of the Centre d’études interuniversitaire des structures sous charges extrêmes (CEISCE) was held on May 8 in Montreal as part of the 80th Congress of Acfas, the francophone scientific association.


The 2012 workshop of the Centre d’études interuniversitaire des structures sous charges extrêmes (CEISCE) was held on May 8 in Montreal as part of the 80th Congress of Acfas, the francophone scientific association.

CEISCE is a research group that includes three large Canadian laboratories on civil engineering structures (Université de Sherbrooke, École Polytechnique and McGill). It has a research program targeting the impacts of heavy loads on structures caused by events such as tsunamis, hurricanes and ice storms — events that lead to important economical losses and the loss of lives.

The CEISCE 2012 workshop, however, focused heavily on the importance of elegance in the design of civil engineering structures for sustainable development.

According to speaker André Bourassa, president of the l’Ordre des architectes du Québec (OAQ), the design of durable, functional and aesthetic civil engineering structures requires a close collaboration between engineers and architects. “Obtaining support from management for the safety and durability [of civil engineering structures] does not usually pose problem. Selling the relevance of elegance in their design may be a more difficult task.”

As in Europe, North America is increasingly recognizing that elegance in civil engineering structures is important as an integral part of sustainable development¬ – that is, having a social and economical value as well as leaving a legacy to future generations.

Another speaker, Michel Virlogeux, a renowned international architect who has designed over 100 bridges including the Normandy Bridge, the Terenez Bridge and the Millau viaduct in France, emphasized the importance of elegance in civil engineering structures.

“To ensure the success of civil engineering structure projects, competitions using a panel of examiners may lead to the best or the worse [results]; the panel has to be selected carefully.” This view resonates with a current, local and significant civil engineering project: the replacement of the Montreal Champlain Bridge.

The replacement of the Montreal Champlain Bridge offers a unique opportunity to include elegance in a civil engineering structure. As we were reminded by Mr. Bourassa, all the bridges in Montreal were designed and built without the participation of architects.

Fortunately, since 2000 in Quebec, more and more design teams include engineers and architects. “A bridge is a landscape. Montreal holds the title of UNESCO City of Design; a title that we have to maintain,” said Mr. Bourassa.

“In the context of a public-private partnership, necessarily the lowest cost will be proposed,” added Mr. Virlogeux. [To ensure the success of the project] “We almost have to set a geometry [of the bridge]”.

Considering the current design trends, the anticipated bridge geometry could well be a cable-stayed bridge, which most agree has an elegant geometry.

Among the speakers of the 2012 CEISCE Workshop, there seemed to be a consensus that the replacement of the Champlain Bridge will be a unique opportunity for collaboration between engineers and architects for a sustainable development project.

Nathalie Ross, Ph.D, RAC, is a science writer based in Montreal. She previously worked as a research scientist at Environment Canada and as an associate professor in the department of chemical engineering at University of Ottawa, specializing in environmental biotechnology. www.nathalieross.com