Becoming Edinburgh’s Sherlock Holmes of Civil Engineering … Or at Least Trying – Ryan Woodgate

Civil Engineering Self-Guided Tour of Edinburgh12Photo by Pushpi Bagchi

The “Civil Engineering Self-Guided Tour of Edinburgh”, organised by the School of Engineering’s Prof. Rotter and Dr. Gillie, allows you to see some of Edinburgh’s most beautiful buildings and a glimpse beyond their facade to the mechanics and technicalities of their structure. Though the event is open to all University of Edinburgh students, it is certainly best understood, and therefore best appreciated, by those whose knowledge of civil engineering is not limited to the first paragraph of its relevant Wikipedia article. However, this is not to say the tour is exclusively for engineering students. Far from it. Anyone uninitiated in engineering, like myself, is provided with an insight into what it is these engineers do. And it turns out they do some pretty nifty work. 

The tour is comprised of 6 routes, containing Edinburgh edifices of high aesthetic appeal, like the Scott Memorial, and the more strictly functional structures, like Murrayfield Stadium. Which route, how much of the route you see and when you see it, is completely up to you. The tour booklet is there to guide you, provide facts and figures and coax your cerebral juices into wondering why a certain structure is built the way it is.

If nothing else, you gain more of an appreciation of how an engineer might see the world. Where we see pretty bridges, columns and domes, they see free-body diagrams of forces counteracting, systems of load transfers, material properties, stresses, supports and other things that I can only pretend to fully understand. The point of this tour, however, is not to fully understand. It is to “ponder”—a repeatedly emphasised word in the thoroughly well-written 42 page tour booklet—how Edinburgh’s fascinating landmarks seemingly defy the elements and gravity itself. If you get the chance, take yourself on this tour. You won’t regret it.

Ryan Woodgate – Philosophy and Economics

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