55 years of Surprise and Curiosity

55 years ago we founded our consulting engineering office and work started. However gradually the work appeared so stimulating and interesting that it became our hobby. Since then we did not work anymore, but started enjoy our hobby.

Taking off, …

AktionSuhnezeichenThe informal start was on October 6th , 1961, when the first post was administered in the just bought cash book. Three partners started, just graduated from the Technical University Delft (TUD). But of course there was not yet enough workload, so only the evenings were available to work on small projects and during the day each of us had his own regular job elsewhere. One of our first larger projects was the design of the concrete structure of the ‘Aktion Sühnezeichen’ on the Oostmaaslaan 950 at Rotterdam. A peace token of the Deutsche Evangelische Kirchen after WOII to the destroyed city of Rotterdam. Architect was Rietveld, Van Dillen en Van Tricht. The construction of the building was done by voluntaries from Germany with help of voluntaries from Rotterdam. The building started as a house for an oecomenical center and after many other destinations, it is a Lodge of Freemasons now.

It was like a heavy loaded plane in need for a long runway, but finally after two years the plane had taken off. From drawing and calculation to reality.
It was a surprise to see the fruits of our work for the first time in the real world.

…. flying away, ….

At the end of 1964 the workload began to increase and at least one of the partners had to step in full time. One partner decided to take the step, one partner became aware he was afraid to become an entrepreneur and the third partner decided on a part-time arrangement.

A successor project was the sports building of the Technical University Eindhoven (TUE). A steel structure with quite long spans. The construction of the steel structure we finally had to reject because of poor measurements and especially bad welding with many internal defects, by the contractor. It led to arbitration and the advisor of the contractor became one of our professors from the TUD. He stated that the construction was still stable and safe notwithstanding the building errors. But he made a mistake by providing his arguments to the arbitral tribunal on paper with the wrong heading. End of arbitration and we won the case. An exciting and stressful experience for a young engineer to fight his own master.

…. and heading for unknown destinations, ….

SportschoolTUEPart of the steel structure of the sports building of the TUE is a cantilever terrace 10 by 10 m2, supported at the outside by two Vierendeel beams. (see picture) The principle of a Vierendeel beam differs from a truss beam. In a truss beam the bending stiffness of the beam is generated by axial forces in the beam members with ‘hinged nodes, whereas in a Vierendeel beam the bending stiffness results from bending of the beam members and stiff nodes; a stiff framework.

FRANIn the 60-ties a general applied method to calculate the behavior of a stiff framework, in the sense of stresses and displacements, was done with help of the so-called method Hardy Cross. This method is an iterative moment distribution method. The more nodes a framework has the more iterations have to be made. However, in each iteration small differences between larger numbers are used for the next iteration, with the result that accuracy is gradually lost. Equilibrium is found if the analysis table in which the analysis is done, shows equal values for each node. We started with a slide rule of 30 cm, but after a few weeks it turned out we lost too much accuracy in the iteration process and the values were far from equal. So we bought a 50 cm slide rule, However, with the same result. Then a 1 m slide rule and again the result was negative. How to proceed?

Fortunately IBM had opened a week earlier a computer center at Rijswijk, quite near to our office. An IBM 7094II large frame computer, occupying a large hall full of hardware, the computation capacity now comparable with a professional PC. And IBM had a program for the analysis of frames (FRAN), they had developed for the strength and stability design of a radio telescope in California. We had not yet any idea about computers, because at the university it was a non-existing item. Of course it took some time to study the program, but after another few weeks we managed to have an input set of input punch cards ready to deliver at the IBM counter. The next day we got the output and you will not believe it, we held the solution to our Vierendeel beam structure solution in our hands.

…evolving in a search for the Grail

Holy GrailBut that was not the most important part of the solution. The computer exercise had opened a door behind which a dazzling bright, limitless space is revealed. From the inspiring real world we entered the abstract world full of wonder, ideas and dreams. Using computer models, we might understand the essence of matter. The sky was very blue (in the 60-ties). What we did not realize at that time was there are many doors to that bright space and within that space there are infinite doors, each with another similar infinite space behind. Curiosity drives us from door to door to find new surprises. And at the end of this infinite maze somewhere one may find the (holy) grail; the status of infinite knowledge and satisfaction, the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow, never to be reached.

This discovery, this awareness became a guiding thought behind our work as consulting engineers. How that worked out in our daily practice is another story to tell.