Architectural and Engineering Marvels

I spent the last two months recuperating from rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder, which has greatly impinged upon my traveling, made writing almost impossible for this righty, and challenged my typing skills.

But it has given me time to reflect on all the great traveling I have done over the years and gleam from them some experiences worth sharing. When I think back on many of the places I have been, one thing that really stands out for me are the works of architectural geniuses, both past and present. Followed by the brilliant abilities of engineers who can bring architectural plans to fruition.

If I had my life to live over again, I would have become an architect. I have a degree in ‘Landscape Design’ and spent many rewarding years designing exterior living spaces. I tend to see things in black and white and straight lines, so I love the act of drafting plans, but design is so much more than that. It involves all levels of critical thinking. I have attempted to roll this training over into my time spent traveling and become an experiential traveler – observing and absorbing what I see.

I marvel at architecture from all eras, but the older the structure or building the more in awe I am. To think back to renaissance era and the construction of some of the most amazing cathedrals still standing today. Or a medieval castle perched upon a hilltop. Truly man-made as there were no cranes, no back-hoes, no dump trucks to help man to create these amazing structures.

A medieval castle sits perched atop a rock outcropping in the Slovenia countryside

A medieval castle, parts built back in the 11th century, sits perched atop a rock outcropping in the Slovenia countryside

No one can deny the monolithic feat of constructing new age buildings like One World Trade Center in New York City. Or the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai. Or the Bow, in Calgary, Alberta. Or bridges like the Golden Gate Bridge. Or the Brooklyn Bridge. Or the Hoover Dam. Or any roadway like Highway 1 a/k/a the Pacific Coast Highway. Or the desolate mountain road that winds down the spine of the central mountain ranges in Jordan.

Hoover Dam, built in the 1930's straddles on the Colorado River on the Nevada-Arizona border

Hoover Dam, built in the 1930’s straddles on the Colorado River on the Nevada-Arizona border

Most of these have been completed in the industrial age where we have cranes that reach 500 feet in the air and can move unimaginable tons of material; dump trucks as big as houses – their tires alone standing 13+ feet tall; or back hoes with hammers so large it can break through granite like it’s puddy.

A large tractor with a hydraulic hammer is used in present day construction to hammer through hard rock like granite

A large tractor with a hydraulic hammer is used in present day construction to hammer through hard rock like granite

I can sit for quite a while staring at a masterpiece from the world of art – like Claude Monet’s ‘Water Lilies,’ but I can stare for hours at the buildings that store many of these works of art. Between New York’s Metropolitan Museum of ArtGuggenheim MuseumAmerican Museum of Natural History; Paris’ The Louvre’, Museum d’Orsay, Museum de l’Orangerie; or Vienna’s Belvedere’s Museum…….the artistry of these buildings is as amazing as the works of art they house.

The Louvre in Paris, France - part of the museum originated as a fortress in the 12th century, then a palace in the 16th century, and finally the museum it is today in the 18th century.

The Louvre in Paris, France – part of the museum originated as a fortress in the 12th century, then a palace in the 16th century, and finally the museum it is today in the 18th century.

But back to pre-industrial era architecture and construction. How did they get the lines so straight and the face of the stones so smooth? How did they get those gigantic pieces of stone up the hill, let alone to the stop of the edifice? How did they build arches that have stood the test of time? How did they create such perfect symmetry in the details that define these highly ornate structures?

There are a multitude of resources to give us the answer to these questions and many, many more. One person who has done the research for us is Ken Follett. In his novel, “Pillars of the Earth,” Follett describes in detail the construction of a gothic cathedral. The book is set in 12th century England, and takes us step by step, day by day, over a 30-year period showing us what was entailed in building a cathedral – from the manpower, to the craftsmanship, to the cost, to the hierarchy, to the delays from war or lack of funding.

Through the years Mother Nature has provided us with amazing scenery, but man has done an admirable job of creating eye-popping structures that not only is appealing to the eye, but often serves a tangible purpose to our daily living – roadways to drive on, cathedrals to pray in, museums to house artwork. So next time you are out and about think about what goes in to each and every man-made structure you come by!

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