UMass Amherst


Author(s): David P. Billington, Sanjay R. Arwade, Ben W. Schafer

Institution(s): Princeton University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Johns Hopkins University

Description: Perspectives on the Evolution of Structures is a study of the history of structural design to demonstrate to students the discipline of structural art and to give them the tools necessary to evaluate structures as works of structural art. For more detailed information see the learning objectives and general course information. The course was developed in 2003 at Johns Hopkins University by Professors Sanjay Arwade and Ben Schafer and is motivated in no small part by Professor David Billington's course at Princeton University: Structures and the Urban Environment. From 2009 forward Professor Arwade has begun teaching the course at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst. From 2010 forward Professor Steve Buonopane has begun teaching the course at Bucknell University. Professor Ben Schafer continues to teach the course at Johns Hopkins with the assistance of his colleagues including Dr. Rachel Sangree, Professor James Guest, and others.

The course covers structures from the Industrial Revolution to modern times with a focus on long span bridges and tall buildings. Our most ambitious objective for the students was that they be able to research the social, symbolic and scientific aspects of structures in the world around them and express their findings clearly in both written, graphical, and spoken form. Through slide lectures in the tradition of art history, combined with extensive writing and calculation assignments, the students perceived that they had indeed obtained this objective. Their performance on a final project consisting of a 20 page paper with calculations and a verbal presentation verified to us that they had achieved our objective. Further, their feedback indicated the course greatly stimulated their interest in the subject matter, and they had some fun along with the learning.

Syllabus: These lectures are listed in the order given as part of the UMass Amherst Course per the Syllabus [link to syllabus.pdf]


Telford, Brunel and British Metal Forms (1780's to 1880's British Structural Engineering)

History and Aesthetics in Suspension Bridges (Othmar Ammann, NYC Bridges, 20th century bridge engineering)

Freyssinet, Finsterwalder and Fallingwater - Origins and Solutions in Prestressed Concrete