The Next Eco City Conference was held in Seattle this past weekend, hosted and well-curated by the University of Washington. Delayed 2 hours on a scheduled 3.5 hour Amtrak ride from Portland to Seattle (not a rare occurrence), I just barely made it to the opening panel discussion. Yet Amtrak’s forced subordinate relationship to the shipping of non-animate freight served as an interesting segway to the opening session of the conference.
Continuing his discussion of landscape infrastructures, Pierre Bélanger made the statement that civil engineering – as dominant maker of urban centers along with planning – essentially operates without theory and generally always has. In contrast to planning disciplines, civil engineering doesn’t appear to be guided by a set of meta ideas for how it goes about doing what it does. Rather it operates on models of structural efficiency, which tend to create unifunctional works and urban monocultures. “A road is typically approached as just a road”, is how Bélanger put it, producing “infrastructural apartheid.”
True? Does civil engineering lack theory, or is it that its theory has relied too heavily on abstracted equations that put its works at a remove from the broader range of its own ramifications? Are there theoretical works of civil engineering prior to current design research that we might be overlooking, yet worthy of consideration? There must be some.