Aesthetics of Waterworks Facilities

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Aesthetics is a subject not particularly relevant to most 21st century engineers.
From reading “The Manual of British Water Supply”, published in 1950 by the
Institution of Water Engineers, one concludes that this was likewise true for most
19th and 20th century engineers. Here is an interesting comment on engineers’
relationship with aesthetics at that time:

“On the thorny subject of aesthetics the engineers throughout the 19th century
maintain a stony silence with one exception – a description of the water pavilion
of the 1884 International Health Exhibition, where clearly all efforts were made to
design a structure on the best and most complicated of Victorian aesthetic
principals”.

Another interesting comment, generously over-predicting engineers’ rising concern
for visual artistry, reads:

“Nevertheless, the turn of this century will have seen a new awakening and
awareness in the creative engineer to design his machines, structures, and
buildings with the eye for beauty of form and harmony with surroundings.”

Along with a rhetorical acknowledgement of its general inaccuracy, this assertion
might draw defensiveness, sidelong justifications or “stony silence” from
engineers, and possibly laughter from architects. The idea that the average
engineer’s commitment to aesthetics has significantly exceeded prior generations’
could charitably be called fanciful. At least, this is probably true for engineers
who never designed an international exhibition.

coin imageA validation of aesthetics’ relative unimportance to civil engineers, however, stems from our position as stewards of the public purse. Economy of means is an ethical premise for civil engineers, and beauty’s abstract importance to core infrastructure casts suspicion on its relevant dollar value. Unwarranted attention
to visual effects in heavy construction is easily cast as self-indulgent, even criminally wasteful. This can be problematic from the standpoint that the built landscape is integral to the ultimate quality of life that infrastructure exists to support.

Still, civil engineers in current practice may live to see the beginnings of a reconciliation between engineering and aesthetics. This was evident during a recent tour of Tualatin Valley Water District’s Ridgewood View Park Reservoir and Pump
Station, hosted by the Pacific Northwest Section of AWWA. The project is located
inside of a residential subdivision and will occupy the site of a now-demolished 5
MG AWWA D110 style concrete reservoir. A fair portion TVWD’s presentation and tour
of the project, both given by Nick Augustus, related engineers’ efforts to involve
and accommodate residents of the project’s vicinity. The final, built design will
essentially present as a fully developed park space that discretely accommodates an
8 MG reservoir and 11 MGD potable water pump station. While integrated landscaping
isn’t new or uncommon to engineering projects, this project stands out by not
simply restoring the project area, but by improving on its prior condition through
well-integrated landscaping and play features. A website detailing the project can
be found at http://www.ridgewoodviewwater.org/.

As land use and increasing population density present new, ongoing, and frequently
conflicting issues to consider, engineering’s aesthetic renaissance may arrive by
necessity.