18 July 2012

Pontist critiqued (again)

A short interruption to the ongoing series of Scottish bridge posts, if I may.

Every so often, I get the impression that people are treating this blog with undue seriousness.

You can find references to it on Wikipedia, as if it were an authoritative source of information. There are links to it from the websites of some bridge designers, presumably on those happy occasions when I've found something good to say about their designs. The blog has even been cited in at least one conference paper. Until now, my personal favourite was when this blog's critique of the River Wear Bridge drew a direct response from the designer.

Here are two more examples that I've only just spotted.

The first comes in a discussion paper by the researcher Professor Sohei Matsuno. Earlier this year, I posted a fairly detailed commentary on the collapse of the Kutai Kartanegara bridge. Prof. Matsuno evidently found it sufficiently interested that he has drafted a detailed comparison of his own theory of the bridge collapse against what I cobbled together from various news stories and Google (if the link doesn't work, you can hopefully read it via Google's quick preview). I get the impression that it's a self-conscious sparring bout, a dress-rehearsal for a discussion yet to be had with the official collapse investigators.

I'd highly recommend it to anyone with a keen interest in bridge failures. The technical detail is fascinating, and Prof. Matsuno does a fine job in elucidating the difference between the forensic engineering approach (to identify a single key cause of failure, and identify supporting factors from a technical perspective), and my more generalist approach, which regards the specific engineering issue as secondary to commercial and behavioural issues - the latter are generally the key areas requiring change if safety is to be improved.

There are a few points where he perhaps reads more into what I wrote than was ever intended (particularly on factors of safety, where stating that they help safeguard against design and construction errors is not the same thing as stating that they are intended to do so - they are not). Nonetheless, it's an excellent read, as Prof. Matsuno clearly has a sense of humour and a rare ability to combine academic rigour with a more personal perspective.

The second example is the preface to a recent book by Haig Beck and Jackie Cooper about Brisbane's Kurilpa Bridge. I haven't read the book, but the preface can be found on books.google.com. I discussed the bridge in June 2009, and Beck and Cooper have kindly used that blog post as the pivot around which their entire preface circulates. They note that my blog post very clearly exposes some of the heuristics (rules of thumb) which apply both to the decisions made by bridge designers, and also to those who attempt to aesthetically evaluate the results. They say:
"The identification of such heuristics raises the questions: How did these heuristics come about? Why do they persist? Are they valid?"
These are good questions, and ones that I've touched on several times in the past. Whether "design critics" are well-qualified to answer them is another matter. It's certainly true that there are certain axiomatic assumptions that are rarely challenged within the core bridge design community.

At some point, I'll buy the book and review it here, and address their arguments properly. For now, it's interesting to note how a quick blog post thrown together in an hour or two can offer a starting point for something far more serious.

Tomorrow, I'll be back on with the Scottish bridges ...

1 comment:

Mark Yashinsky said...

Dear Happy Pontist,
You shouldn't be surprised that your blog holds considerable weight within the bridge community.
Your postings are well-written and it's obvious that you have considerable knowledge on the subject of bridge aesthetics.
Mark Y