Civil engineering is the oldest discipline of engineering. It is concerned with civil applications of engineering principles in projects such as buildings, roads, bridges, airports, dams, water purification and treatment plants, sport facilities, public structures such as schools, hospitals, courts, and museums; recreational areas such as parks, etc. Almost everything that humans get to use in their daily routine is a civil engineering creation. Engineers cannot successfully design anything that people use unless they attain the understanding of the purpose of the humanistic function that their creations will serve. This process of thought has to be inherent in any design. After all, the fact that cannot be overlooked is that engineers are humans that design for humans. Unlike computer programs that can be used to perform design functions based on a given set of parameters, engineers include to their designs flavors that computers cannot add. These are the human touch, the taste for beauty, the ease of use, the smooth functionality, and the visual appeal. Hence, it is my argument that an engineer cannot be an effective designer without being an insightful humanist. What makes the relationship between engineering and humanity such a special one is that engineers, too, get to use their own creations and be the first to critique how well a designed product responds to the human need for which it is created. Humans with no engineering or technical background use these products and do not think much of them as long as they perform well. Humans tend to get frustrated fast when an engineered product malfunctions or when it does not work the way it is supposed to. This is when they start to look at that product and think why the designer/engineer did not take into consideration the scenario that resulted into the product’s break down.
That said, humans have deep and subconscious appreciation for engineered facilities and other enormous effects attributed to engineers and their creation, such as a clean environment. Case in point is that when people travel, they are always attracted to visit places of special significance due to factors such as beautiful nature, history, wildlife, landscape, ancient or modern structures, etc. The pleasure one gets from visiting these places is always coupled, mainly, with what the eye can see. I am a civil engineer and I like to travel because it widens one’s horizons as one is introduced to different places with a variety of cultures and styles. I also like to observe people’s behavior when visiting a new place. As an engineer, it is extremely gratifying to see people standing in front of a building, a bridge, or a skyscraper to freeze a moment of time in a frame of a photo that will always remind them of that place. People may not think of the engineering work that went into the design and construction of a building, but their admiration results in unconscious acknowledgement of this feat of engineering which gives them a desire to make it a permanent part of their history and a feature in a photo commemorating that visit.
As an engineer, when I travel I catch myself staring at trusses, frames, the cables of suspension or cable-stayed bridges, the skeleton of a skyscraper, the bracing system of a water tower, etc. These are structures that one can see the part above ground but what fascinates me the most are the components that one cannot see because they are embedded underground. These are the foundations that ultimately support the superstructures. Although one cannot see a buried foundation, people can sense its presence. The mere fact that a structure is standing upright, being able to resist wind, earthquake, snow, and other loading conditions is an indication of a good design that took all factors into consideration to yield a safe design. What is even more challenging to people’s minds as they consider it to be a great source of amazement is when a structure is not standing upright such as the leaning Tower of Pisa. This sparks many questions: what went wrong; how is it standing; can it be fixed; is it safe; will it collapse? Everyone looks for answers and, suddenly, everyone wants to express an opinion about an engineering matter. It is the engineering spirit embedded in the souls of non-engineers. It does not surprise me; it is like the humanistic spirit that lies deep within engineers.
In addition, there are nonphysical factors that cannot be touched but add significantly to the feeling one develops about a place as they communicate with other human senses. When one smells the air of a given city he/she is visiting, one can get a good indication about the quality of the environment in that place. An air that smells fresh and clean is an indication of quality controlled by low or no emission, less pollution, and tight control of environmental regulations. Air quality has such a great importance because humans and all creatures must breathe as long as they live. No one can stop breathing even if they do not like the air that they breathe. Water is another indicator of the quality of places one visits. Supplies of public water follow strict standards and must be odorless, colorless, and tasteless. A sip of water can give a person indication about the quality of water treatment processes. These are engineering operations that the public takes for granted and never questions until they sense something out of the ordinary. Clean air and clean water are basic human rights that both engineers and non-engineers treasure and cherish. They represent humanity in its best and they embody the good that both engineers and humanists strive to deliver to the masses.
Speaking of travel, one does not need to be an engineer to notice the flow of traffic in the streets, the organization and the geometrical design of curves, overpasses, underpasses, tunnels, bridges, traffic signals, pavement smoothness, slopes, drainage accessories, road steepness, posted signs, markings on pavement, crossings, night lights, reflective illuminations, etc. These are all common features that help make travel easier, safer, and enjoyable. In absence of one or more of the above, one cannot help but notice chaos and lack of pattern, which may lead to higher level of accidents and lower sense of security. The ultimate success engineering design achieves is when it does its function without being noticed. One never feels how a pavement is smooth until they hit a rugged patch of road; one never notices how easily traffic flows until they hit a long cycle of red signal; one never appreciates the beautiful design of streets until they hit a congested area. This is the nature of humans: they tend to be occupied by the things that bother or frustrate them but always overlook those that make life go smoothly. Engineers are happy to see their creations go unnoticed as they perform their intended service, knowing that this is the ultimate compliment humanity can bestow on them.
Traveling to places with ancient or prehistoric structures is a total thrill. In this age of huge machinery and capable equipment one can think of no impossible toward building whatever we want to build. At ancient times, manual tools and manpower were the only means available to construct, and despite the primitive techniques used, humanity has managed to construct an array of structures of monumental proportions. One can make a long list of such impressive ancient structures. There is always a story behind each and every one of these structures as they were meant to serve a humanistic purpose. The features and the scope of effort that went into building these massive monuments are a clear illustration of what a strong-willed people can do. We inherited these human treasures and find in them a source of pride and admiration. Whether it is a Pyramid, Coliseum, Pantheon, Parthenon, temple, landmark, or a statue, these ancient structures provide manifestation of a vision that a humanist had in their mind that needed engineering translation to become a physical structure that symbolizes the purpose for which it is built. This type of interpretation is an example of how integration between engineering and the humanities was done hundreds or thousands of years ago. What the ancients did should serve as a model to guide modern day engineers and humanists toward more integration and collaboration. It is my opinion that such cooperation will have the guaranteed effect of enriching humanity.
Both engineers and humanists know the importance of developing an appreciation for the role each play in society. The intersection and overlap of issues of mutual significance is too much to ignore. Both parties need each other and they cannot operate without each other as they aim at furthering the cause of better and enjoyable living conditions for all. Their cooperation and collaboration are needed to achieve the best possible outcome to advance humanity. The fruits of this relationship are evident in almost everything the eye can see around us. Sometimes it is even more sensible in the invisible, such as air and its quality, for example. I must admit, sensing the invisible is a whole lot more fun than seeing the visible. This is because people, engineers and humanists alike, respond to their emotions as they always pursue joy and happiness in life.