The Art of Structural Design:
A Swiss Legacy

August 26 - December 10, 2006

The Art of Structural Design features the work of Robert Maillart, Othmar Ammann, Heinz Isler, and Christian Menn, who attended the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich where they were taught by Wilhelm Ritter and Pierre Lardy.  There they were inspired to create structures that were both technically and aesthetically well designed.  Organized by the Princeton University Art Museum and the Princeton University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, led by Professor David P. Billington, this is the first exhibition to showcase the work of these four designers and their revolutionary teachers.

Professor Billington creates curricula in engineering that involve a multidisciplinary approach that includes history and art.  The eight scale models in the exhibition were built and designed by Princeton students and staff.  They illustrate the philosophy shared by Professor Billington and the Swiss engineers of the integration of an artistic design with structural science.  The models are accompanied by photographs of the built structures in their environment, original notebooks containing designs, and an interactive CD-ROM presentation that elucidates the building process of the scale models. 

According to Professor Billington, “Engineers and especially academics often argue that aesthetics are not part of their profession.  If you want beauty, hire an architect or, more radically, a sculptor.  One major objective of education in engineering should be to encourage students to see, accept, and begin to use that elemental sense of aesthetics.”  The Art of Structural Design is a testament to the contributions of Professor Billington to the engineering curriculum in his 45 years at Princeton University. 

Professor Billington will offer a lecture in conjunction with the exhibition at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 13, in Graham Auditorium, Hillyer Hall, across from the Museum.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

Assistant Professor Andrew Guswa from the Picker Engineering Program at Smith College says of the exhibition, “The Art of Structural Design highlights the inescapable connections between art and engineering and serves as a prime example of our vision for the Picker Engineering Program.”  The exhibition aims to promote the ideas disseminated about aesthetics in engineering at the Federal Institute of Technology.

This unique exhibition showcases the philosophies of engineers who are applauded by artists and architects alike.  The Art of Structural Design communicates the Swiss legacy of an emphasis on aesthetics by expressing its importance in engineering education.  It is being shown at the Smith College Museum of Art to support engineering, architecture, and art courses at Smith and the Five Colleges. 

Presentation of The Art of Structural Design at SCMA was made possible through the commitment of Smith’s Picker Engineering Program to increase the understanding of engineering and the possibilities that exist at the intersection of multiple disciplines. The Museum’s special exhibitions and programs are also supported  by the Tryon Associates Fund, Members of the Museum, and Museum Shop.   The Museum gratefully acknowledges the Picker Engineering Program for making the presentation of the exhibition at Smith College possible, in particular Director Linda E. Jones (Rosemary Bradford Hewlett '40 Professor), Associate Director Dawn M. Scaparotti, and Assistant Professor Andrew Guswa, who led the initiative.