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2013 News Releases



Course 1 engineering design class provides springboard to CEE careers

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By Kathryn O’Neill
Civil & Environmental Engineering

Whether they’re headed to graduate school or taking jobs in industry, government agencies or nonprofit organizations, the members of the Course 1 Class of 2013 leave MIT this week well prepared to meet the challenges of the field — thanks in part to their impressive work in 1.013 Senior Civil and Environmental Engineering Design.

A team of seniors designed this energy-efficient building making use of green space, geothermal energy, solar panels and rainwater harvesting. The students also performed environmental and geotechnical assessmenta of the site, and planned for pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Image / Nicole Wang
A team of seniors designed this energy-efficient building making use of green space, geothermal energy, solar panels and rainwater harvesting. The students also performed environmental and geotechnical assessmenta of the site, and planned for pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Image / Nicole Wang

A Course 1 required subject, this class gives students a chance to integrate all they’ve learned through their years in CEE to address practical, real-world challenges — ranging from soil contamination and natural disasters to sustainable building design. “The senior design capstone course models the professional situations we might see after graduation,” said senior Tara Soni, an environmental engineering science major who will be heading to work at Shell.

The centerpiece this year was designing a new building to serve as home to both CEE and MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). This major project required students to consider a huge range of issues, from zoning regulations and environmental conditions to structure, sustainability and geotechnical concerns.

“The CEE/EAPS building project was a hands-on opportunity for us to learn exactly what it takes to conceive of a design and plan to deliver a serious engineering project,” said senior Jonté Craighead, a civil engineering major who has a job lined up at Accenture. “The recommendations, plans, and detailed designs that we produced reinforced our confidence that the theory and techniques we’d developed in Course 1 were directly relevant to a project of significance to society and our community.”

Designing within constraints

For this project, the class was split into three teams of nine-10 members, each charged with designing a building from the ground up. The stated goal was to create “an example of a teaching and research complex satisfying foreseeable and unforeseeable needs in the societal and natural environment while actively furthering the activities of its users.”

All teams were required to address local zoning regulations and building codes, contamination cleanup and soil conditions at the site, as well as a right-of-way for public transportation. “It was challenging to integrate all of the elements of design into one comprehensive story,” Soni said.

Professor Herbert Einstein, the lead instructor for 1.013, said he was very impressed by the innovative concepts the students employed to meet the challenge. “They were able to integrate knowledge from very different disciplines,” he said.

For example, the teams came up with a variety of different ways to make the building more environmentally sustainable. One design incorporated a “green wall” of ivy; another proposed a green roof and a greywater toilet system; the third posited geothermal heat and energy recovery. The teams also came up with different ideas for the building’s foundation: a pile cap design, which features a concrete slab resting on piles driven into the ground, or a raft foundation.

Soni said it was fascinating to see how different the final designs were given that the teams all started with the problem statement and the same information. “I thought it was pretty interesting that they focused on different aspects of design in different teams. Some concentrated more on structural aspects, other on energy efficiency,” she said.

Bridge construction project

Finding alternative solutions to the same problem is a hallmark of 1.013, which is arguably best known on campus for another class project: the construction of bridges outside the MIT Student Center. Every spring the seniors in 1.013 are tasked with designing and building a portable footbridge capable of spanning a 10-foot gap and supporting up to 2,000 pounds. Students may only use hand tools for construction, and all materials must be commonly available in the developing world.

“The amazing thing here is that we have been designing/building bridges for 12 years for a total of nearly 60 different bridges, and maybe three of those were similar,” Einstein said.  “All the others were different.”

This year’s 1.013 students also spent time critiquing the design of a variety of Boston sites and developing countermeasures to mitigate the consequences of natural hazards such as floods, earthquakes and landslides. Students devised a number of solutions, including a detailed tree-thinning plan to address the threat of wildfires in California, an evacuation plan for an area of Hawaii susceptible to volcanic eruptions, and short- and long-term plans to mitigate the effects of drought.

Each 1.013 student was also required to prepare a portfolio describing his or her work in the class. Many students use these portfolios in job interviews, even adding to them after their first few years in the workforce, according to graduate students Stephen Morgan and Bruno Gonçalves da Silva, who served as teaching assistants for the subject. The teaching team also included lecturers Peter Shanahan, David Langseth and Lisa O’Donnell, as well as technical instructor Stephen Rudolph.

Together, the class exercises and projects give seniors “confidence that they can apply their knowledge in a complex context, work in teams, come up with a real design and deliver on time,” Einstein said.

“In our junior year it’s easy to get caught up in science and theory,” Soni said. “This class brought us back to practical concerns.”