In “Collapse and Crash,” a review of Henry Petroski’s new book, To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure, Bill McKibben reflects on the implications of past design errors and catastrophic construction failures, but also look at factors that might determine future failure.
Considering the already felt impacts of climate change, he questions whether we are at an inflection point in the way we’ve built until now, and in the value we’ve placed on heroic feats of engineering.
If the engineering goals of the past were to build longer bridges and higher skyscrapers and cheaper, more graceful structures generally, are those still sensible goals? Or in a more difficult world, might we choose a different set of targets, and in the process change many professions, engineering included? You could argue, I think, that a less hospitable earth might, in many places, dictate a design style geared toward the squat, the durable, the hardy.