Engineering - Systems and Networks

Buckminster Fuller, Geodesic Dome

I'm starting with Buckminster Fuller for no particular reason other than I really like his ideas. For me he presents a cross-over between engineered and aesthetic design. Also, the forms of his work beautifully express a visual representation of connected and interdependent networks.

The hubs and nodes concept of systems could be applied to nearly any case study that we have looked at and seems to be another way of formalising the systems view that we have already discussed.

I like engineering case studies for complexity and collapse because they have tangible results and the success or failure is evident in ways that it sometimes hasn't been in other areas that we have studied. That being said this fact is quite a large part of one of the problems of engineering, because it exists in a sphere of specialists it is very easy to maintain a self-contained attitude to problem solving. Engineering problems could be solved solely by engineers or could choose to take in the advice of economists, demographers, psychologists, environmental scientists, artists and consumers among many others.

This idea was explored by Gaurav in our tutorial, who is a software engineer. He said that it is very very easy to remain in a bubble and not need to consult outside sources until product implementation, which in the case of large scale infrastructure projects could be disastrous.

I chose to look at the California Electricity Crisis as a case study for collapse in the engineering tutorial. This really showed up how engineered systems are still widely susceptible to the effects of outside factors. I mentioned Enron earlier when talking about culpability within systems.

The California Electricity Crisis had many elements. From my readings the key factors seem to include
  • Deregulated energy markets
  • Aging infrastructure
  • Environmental factors: Drought reducing hydro-electricity, Fire disrupting networks
  • Artificial manipulation of system by malicious parties, including Enron.

The first three of this list already makes for a complex, yet controllable system, however the balance in the system being upset by artificial manipulation created unnecessary complexity through a lack of transparency. I think that this type of complexity needs to considered often as a complication in systems.

I thought that this tutorial was run really well, giving people different viewpoints to research. Working in groups with the whiteboards to draw explanations of crisis and then to reconvene and discuss amongst the whole group was an effective learning strategy.

Question: How would my discipline (Art, culture and curatorship) be useful in an interdisciplinary engineering school?