Built by Roma Agrawal

In the fourteen sections/chapters of Built, Roma Agrawal explores various aspects of structural engineering and the built environment, sometimes from a personal perspective and sometimes from a more historical one. Early in the book, Agrawal describes her background: she initially went to university to study physics, then fell in love with engineering and became a structural engineer; she’s designed buildings, bridges, and more, and was part of the team that designed the Shard in London. Throughout the book she uses her personal experiences and historical examples as a way to talk about the issues that engineers in general have to consider on various kinds of projects. So for example, she uses her “first project after leaving university,” which was “the Northumbria University Footbridge in Newcastle,” as a way to discuss beams, columns, struts, and trusses, and how they help structures deal with the forces on them, after explaining that “a major part of the engineer’s job is figuring out how structures can withstand the manifold forces determined to push, pull, shake, twist, squash, bend, rend, split, snap or tear them apart.” Elsewhere in the book she discusses building materials, from clay and brick to iron, steel, and concrete; she also talks about things like the challenges of transporting fresh water and human waste to and from buildings and cities. I particularly liked the chapter about protecting buildings from fires and the chapter about bridges (which features five very different examples of bridge construction, from different times and places), but really every chapter contained a lot of interesting things, even if I already knew about some of them (like Emily Warren Roebling’s role in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, or Joseph Bazalgette’s design for London’s sewer system). And there was plenty that was new to me, like the concept of “self-healing concrete” containing “tiny capsules of calcium lactate” and bacteria that can make calcite to fill cracks, if the concrete cracks and water gets in, or like the work done to stabilize the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City (which had been settling unevenly over the centuries), or like the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland, which lifts boats and connects canal systems.






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