Masterworks of Technology: The Story of Creative Engineering, Architecture, and Design

Article excerpt

Masterworks of Technology: The Story of Creative Engineering, Architecture, and Design E. E. Lewis. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004.

Building from Henry Petroski's explanation of how failure has improved the design of bridges and skyscrapers, E. E. Lewis journeys from his specific research in nuclear engineering and invites the layperson into the wonderfully rich history of engineering design in Masterworks of Technology: The Story of Creative Engineering, Architecture, and Design. Lewis organizes the book around the principles of engineering design, including theoretical perspectives, invention methods, tool development, usability testing, and implementation. To illustrate this progression both historically and culturally, Lewis carefully traces the design process of several dozen objects, everything from wagon wheels and microwaves to sailing ships and skyscrapers. Each of the eleven chapters focuses on one engineering principle. For example, to show the role of drawing and visualization within the design process, Lewis discusses Leonardo da Vinci's cutaway and exploded-view drawings, the three-dimensional models of ships' hulls, and the technical information conveyed through abstract symbols and computer drawings. He explains how these visualization methods allow engineers to perfect the design before fabrication and to communicate more easily with clients.

Yet Lewis provides more than just historical facts of engineering design. He contextuahzes the cultural impact of changes in the design process. When tracing the changes to the wagon wheel, Lewis reminds readers that a farmer could not invest fifty dollars for an engineer to tinker around, hoping for a lighter, more durable wheel. Instead, an engineer relied on the farmers' feedback when they brought in broken wheels or placed new orders, so the modifications were minor over many years. When modifications to objects involved using new materials, such as shifting from wood to iron in shipbuilding, those in carpentry had to learn new skills in metalworking. …