Structural Engineering Heroes and Their Inspirational Journey

Ignacio Paya-Zaforteza, Maria E.M. Garlock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In the nineteenth century, civil and structural engineers received much public acclaim for their built works (e.g. Brooklyn Bridge, Eiffel Tower). One hundred years later, the engineer was perceived by many as “out” or as not requiring much skill. This paper examines how this erroneous perception of structural engineering can change by presenting structural engineers as heroes. Using parallels to the monomythical hero, and examples of engineers, the authors present the journey and characteristics of the structural engineering hero. The journey, which has many paths, begins with the engineer leaving the comfortable “Ordinary World” of design into a “Special World”, where new forms, new materials, and/or scale for projects is needed. For underrepresented groups of people such as women and minorities, the heroic journey could be simply becoming an engineer and developing a career in conditions of equality and equity. As structural engineering heroes enter the Special World, they may face trials of nature and criticism, and face constraints of economy, time and knowledge. In the final Act of the journey, they return to the Ordinary World wiser, disseminating their knowledge and inspiring others. The authors define the characteristics of structural engineering heroes by four “P”s: they are prepared, they are planners, they have (super) powers and they are persona grata. The education of the structural engineer should train and inspire future engineers using the lessons learned from the heroes and their diversity. By doing so, what seems exceptional today can become common in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)584-597
Number of pages14
JournalStructural Engineering International
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction


  • Engineering hero
  • Joseph Campbell
  • conceptual design
  • diversity
  • engineering education
  • monomyth
  • philosophy of structures


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