Sunday, 17 October 2010

Structures Or Why Things Don't Fall Down- J.E. Gordon Book Review


I finally finished this architecture/engineering book that I thought would give me more insight to the theory of architecture as I am applying to study this subject at university. Written by J.E. Gordon, “Structures or why things don’t fall down” provide an extraordinarily human look into the topic, introducing architectural and structural theory slowly and gradually in a way anyone can understand, as well as in a style that is enjoyable and insightful.


Surprisingly, the cover of the book has many of the themes and examples that are talked about in the book, so for a pictoral summation of this whole book, the cover has to be it! Why there are worms, skeletons, flowers and bridges on the cover will take reading this book to find out. ;)

The book is divided into four parts with the following chapters:

Chapter 1- The structure of our lives

PART 1- The difficult birth of the science of elasticity
Chapter 2- Why structures carry loads
Chapter 3- The invention of stress and strain
Chapter 4- Designing for safety
Chapter 5- Strain energy and modern fracture mechanics

PART 2- Tension Structures
Chapter 6- Tension structures and pressure vessels
Chapter 7- Joints, fastenings and people
Chapter 8- Soft Materials and Living Structures

PART 3- Compression and Bending Structures
Chapter 9- Walls, arches and dams
Chapter 10- Something about Bridges
Chapter 11- The advantage of being a beam
Chapter 12- The mysteries of shear and torsion
Chapter 13- The various ways of failing in compression

PART 4- And the Consequence was…
Chapter 14- The philosophy of Design
Chapter 15- A chapter on Accidents
Chapter 16- Efficiency and Aesthetics

Architectural theory is slowly introduced through these chapters, gradually increasing in complexity, with the inclusion of mathematical formulas, charts and diagrams. I found those the most useful in understanding the theory that is talked about.

However, not everything is based on a structural form and a lot of the book describes things in nature and the human body, things that we know about and understand, such as the skeletal structure and how that can support our weight, blood vessels and pressures in those as well as trees and how they can withstand the force of wind. By using these natural and relatable comparisons, our understanding of this theory can be cemented and better learnt.

As well as explaining theory, there is a progression through time with the examples given, stretching from Greek times to the industrial revolution to the modern day. A big part of this is learning from the mistakes made in the past and understanding how things were made then and the change in technology and material science.

In addition to diagrams, there are also photographic and drawn plates in the centre of the book which act as good references throughout the book and allow you to see what Gordon is referring to.

I bought this book for several quid on Amazon which makes this a good bargain; although I am sure this will be available in most libraries.

Overall, this book has definitely given me a better understanding of structures and the different kinds of structures that can be built up using different methods. However, the way this is conveyed through everyday examples means that anyone can read this book and gain something from it, be it one fact or theory. More than anything, this book is an interesting read that will change your perception of architectural design.

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