Last fall, The Engineers Alliance for the Arts approached Heights High School to introduce a bridge building program in both an art class and a robotics class.
The program is meant to bridge the gap between the art world and the engineering world by bringing more awareness of engineering to students who focus on art and to bring awareness of art to the students interested in engineering. The goal is to show the students how their passions can strengthen when they broaden their scope.
The program has various volunteer engineering experts devoting an hour of time once a week for ten weeks to teach students the basics of bridge building. The volunteers teach the students everything from scaling drawings so proportions are correct to connecting bridge elements so loads transfer safely and efficiently.
“The majority of the program has been dedicated to helping the students dream up and build their own foam board bridge, which is required to follow project specifications relating to length, width, depth and strength,” said Emily McCarthy, Houston’s Engineers Alliance for the Arts coordinator and Staff II structural engineer for Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger. “The requirement of the program was to design and build a bridge conforming to one of two bridge scenarios: one in San Francisco carrying only pedestrian and light rail traffic loads with green space and one in Panama crossing the canal carrying car and train traffic and requiring clearance under the bridge deck for ships to pass under.”
The Heights High students worked on their bridges in groups of three to six students. They not only had to complete the project as a group, but they also had to complete an essay, and an oral presentation on their completed bridge.
“Judges scored the bridges according to how they complied with the scenario requirements, how they looked, how they used structural ingenuity and how they presented during their oral presentation,” said McCarthy. “First place winners were selected for each of the bridge scenarios and then a people’s choice award was selected based on votes from every attendee.”
The Panama Bridge and People’s Choice Award first place winners was team “The Big Moist.” The team members included Andy Cardenas, Olivia Johnson, Maria Martinez, and Vanessa Aguirre.
“This bridge was designated to be built right over the Panama Canal, and since there is a lot of moisture coming from the water and the bridge itself is massive we decided to call it The Big Moist,” said Andy Cardenas. “We decided to make an arc bridge to accommodate for the massive ships passing through. The bridge itself accommodates eight lanes of traffic with four lanes on each side, two rails, and one rail station. That’s a lot of weight for one bridge so we decided to create 13 pillars on each side to evenly distribute the weight.”
The San Francisco Bridge winners was team “Elysium.” The team members included Cristal Perez, Javier Arias, Jose Rubio, and Ivan Dorantes.
“The Elysium bridge is identified as a double high beam, while primarily being made of steel and concrete,” said Cristal Perez. “The bridge would accommodate thousands of pedestrians. The bridge include environmental features such as an open space with grass, trees, and water features.”
The team chose the name Elysium, meaning ‘after life’ to match the futuristic look of the bridge.
“Our volunteers came from Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger Structuneering Inc., Cardno, AECOM, Cardno, Engie, Fractal, Solar Turbines, Henderson Rogers, and Walter P Moore,” said McCarthy. “Funding for the program came from the National Council of Structural Engineering Associations (NCSEA) and our volunteers heard about the program through Houston’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and The Structural Engineering Association of Texas (SEAoT).”