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Architecture Students Reach Their Breaking Point
in Daunting Studio Assignment

Date: Feb. 8, 2001
Story by: Mary Bridget Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Archive: General News

Chaos and catastrophe will bring constructive learning for about 60 University of Cincinnati architecture students during a special studio set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 21 in Room 4400 College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.

In one of their first attempts to translate theoretical design into reality, students in a Structures II course will build an eight-foot-long bridge of all-organic materials like wood, rope and string. The students work in groups of two to four, and each bridge must hold up under the weight of all the group's members, explained Thomas Bible, associate professor of architecture. Then, the fun really begins. If the bridge survives the initial test, fellow students pile on top until the bridge comes tumbling down. In all, about 20 bridges will be tested.

Though many past bridges have supported six to eight people, these spans are not usually "design" winners because they are made of heavier material. The goal, said Bible, is to design and build the lightest possible bridge that will hold all team members. For instance, the winning bridge two years ago weighed only 4.75 pounds but supported a weight of 490 pounds, meaning it supported 103.2 pounds of architect per pound of bridge. The best of the best in years past supported 160 pounds of architect per pound of bridge.

Lessons of this "cross-or-consequences" assignment include the mathematical equations for figuring tension, torque, member support, distance and strength. It also tests, according to Bible, "...the effectiveness of the latest diet, the ability to walk gingerly, hopeful thinking, prayer, humility and graceful collapse."

Many of the sophomores will face their fate in high style as it's something of a custom to dress in costume for the test of strength. "The project began among freshmen years ago just for fun. We eventually incorporated it into the curriculum during the eighth week of winter quarter as a rite-of-passage before the sophomores split with about half the class going to their first cooperative education assignments in the spring. The bridge break falls around Mardi Gras, and I think that's where the custom of costumes began. It's become something of a Mardi Gras of mayhem," said Bible.

Tensions tend to mount in the days before the test. For instance, students using glue for fastening must work fast to assemble all the pieces before the glue sets. It's like surgery, and seconds count. Senior architecture students will judge the spans on aesthetics and structural reliability, handing out awards like the "You Should Have Let the Glue Set."

UC's architecture program was ranked third in the U.S. in the 2000 Almanac of Architecture and Design, based on surveys of professionals in the field.

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