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Structural Preservation (CEEN 544)

Professor Susan M. Reynolds


Structural Preservation of Existing and Historic Buildings (CEEN 544) is a class for graduate students (and in some cases, undergraduate seniors) that want to learn how to evaluate, preserve, restore, rehabilitate, reinforce, and stabilize existing buildings so that they remain serviceable and in use. The class has been designed to blur the traditional boundaries between the fields of structural engineering and geotechnical engineering, as preservation is a holistic field that requires expertise across soils, substructures, and superstructures. The class is being revamped for Fall 2021 as a once-per-week, Saturday morning offering (9a-12p). Some classes will be held on campus in a traditional classroom setting; others will be on-site in Boulder, Idaho Springs, Denver, etc.

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Why take this class?


From a practical perspective, existing buildings comprise a major percentage of all work in the construction industry.

Despite this, practicing engineers often lack specialized education in this field.

This is problematic (and frankly, embarrassing) for the profession of engineering.

Through the lens of sustainability, the adaptation and reuse of existing structures requires far less energy than the demolition and replacement of our existing building stock.

A development strategy that is based upon preservation philosophy can protect habitats from human encroachment and keep wild spaces wild.

From a cultural perspective, the worth of historic buildings and structures transcends their monetary or functional value. When we visit New York, we want to walk on the Brooklyn Bridge and climb the Empire State Building.

The worth of these cultural symbols is incalculable and indelible.

From an academic perspective, you’ll learn the the utter joy of historic research.

You’ll learn the value of engineering manuals and handbooks from decades and centuries ago.

You’ll see how that foundation laid the groundwork for modern engineering practice.

Finally, from a personal perspective, preservation is a fun and fulfilling career. I have had the privilege on working on the Stephen Decatur House, the National Gallery of Art, Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, the Pentagon, and many more famous buildings. I have done infrared thermography on the National Mall at 3:00am, crept around in attic spaces with pigeons, explored creepy forgotten hospital wards below the streets of New York, climbed through Thomas Jefferson’s attic in Monticello, conducted an assessment of the space Clara Barton used as an office, surveyed Manhattan’s skyscrapers from their roofs, discovered 1920s-era invoices in crawlspaces while avoiding rattlesnakes, and researched special collections at the National Archives in DC and the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. If you want to be an engineer, but your personality is too adventurous for a desk job, preservation could be a great career option for you.




Prereqs: The course has been designed for first-semester graduate students that hold a BS in Civil Engineering or a closely-related field. The official prerequisites are a first course in Steel and a first course in Concrete. A first course in Timber and/or Masonry is also highly desirable, as well as a course in Foundations, and (Modern) Construction Materials / Methods. That said, I have the ability to be flexible with prereqs, especially for students with practical experience in the construction industry, or for graduate students that hold undergraduate degrees in other fields. Please contact me to discuss.

Offerings: This course will be offered in odd-numbered Falls. At least, that is the current plan. Departmental scheduling plans for courses can change abruptly for a variety of reasons. For the most current information, please contact the instructor.

Online option: At the moment, the course incorporates field trips, making an online offering quite challenging. For now, the course must be taken face-to-face. However, I am interested in gauging interest in an online offering of the course. Please contact me if you have feedback or suggestions.