Building Bridges and Breaking Bridges in Structures I

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Bridges were built this semester in the Georgia Tech School of Architecture Structures I course in a unique exercise that tasked students with responsibilities as designers, engineers and builders. Bridge designs were calculated, reviewed and built throughout the semester, and on November 29, the Structures I class came together at for a special event where they broke the bridges, testing them to failure.

In addition to their own intuition about structures, students used calculation methods introduced in the Structures I class, taught by Jim Case and Chris Putman. Many of the groups also used a graphical (drawing-based) method of calculation called graphic statics to more intuitively design and calculate the forces in their designs. Graphic Statics was introduced this year by Ventulett NEXT Generation Visiting Fellow, Jonathan Dessi-Olive in a series of three lectures given to Structures students in October.

In teams of three to four, students were tasked to design, calculate and build a wooden “bridge” structure that would be tested to failure. Structures were made of balsa wood and glue and had to span 30 inches. The goal was for the teams to design minimum weight wood structures that, when tested to failure, would break at 100 pounds.

The teams made initial design proposals and calculations, which were presented and pinned up for review in early November. The reviewers included engineers from Uzun+Case, as well as Georgia Tech faculty from the Schools of Architecture and Civil Engineering. This valuable review session gave students the opportunity to talk to professionals about their designs, go over calculations, and discuss construction and fabrication strategies.

On November, 29, the teams arrived at the Digital Fabrication Lab with their constructed balsa wood bridges. With the assistance of Professor Russell Gentry, each bridge was tested to failure. Students completed the assignment by writing a report describing their process, analyzing their data collected from load testing, and reflecting on their experience working as designers, engineers and builders.

The following are the winning teams:

Best Strength to weight ratio – and highest capacity:

  • “Team Bridge” (Jane Ilyasova, Suzanne Shorrosh, Yuki Okamoto, Josh Putrasahan) The team’s structure weighed 0.55 lbs and carried 318lbs

Tied for failure closest to 100lbs:

  • “No Name” (Yifan Zhuang, Shejie Li, Jianan Kang, Jiahe Xu) The team’s structure weighed 0.37 lbs and carried 87.6lbs
  • “Can't Truss This” (Amy Stone, Marco Ancheita, Emily Wirt) The team’s structure weighed 0.56 lbs and carried 87.9lbs


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: cwagster3
  • Created: 12/12/2017
  • Modified By: cwagster3
  • Modified: 12/12/2017

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