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J. Bernabeu Larena, A. Bernabeu Larena

Technical University of Madrid (UPM) (SPAIN)
Civil engineering builds public works. Its function, purpose and relationship with the land make them key elements in the development of the territory and signs of identity of the cultural landscape. To build is to dwell in the world.

However, most of the courses in the Degree and Master lesson are technical or mathematics courses, and do not consider these issues. We teach how to solve problems, but forget to educate the understanding and appreciation of the built environment. Thus, it is especially important to emphasize the relevance of construction history education.

Many of the European universities include this kind of lessons, but they are usually considered as elective courses, a supporting feature not specifically required to fulfill the course, the “icing on the cake”. This is, in our opinion, an incorrect approach. We think education of construction history has to be considered a core lesson, the “cake batter”, a key knowledge to understand the character and the sense of civil engineering.

Based on our experience over the last six academic years, the paper points out the importance of this subject in the education of landscape and civil engineering, and proposes an educational approach that may be useful for other professors.

First of all, construction history may be considered as a transversal course, covering the totality of civil engineering works. It has not to be limited to structural engineering, as quite frequently happens. In addition to bridges and structures, construction history has to include transport and roads, dams and hydraulic works, ports and coasts, energy and landscape. This way the student will have a global overview and a complete sense of the profession, and will be aware of the importance of the relationship of public works with the land.

Moreover, construction history is also a humanistic course, fulfilling scientific-technical education of the engineer with a theoretical and critical reflection based on the main historical theories, articles and references.

We propose a triple approach on the subject: materials, types and processes, that set their technological context; authors -civil engineering is not anonymous-, showing the creative work of the engineer; major civil engineering works, considering and understanding both their cultural significance and their technical and functional innovations.

In our experience, construction history has to be an attractive and participatory lesson, in which group-working, public presentations and new technologies replace the classical individual written work, that have proven to be increasingly ineffective and uninteresting. Moreover than being taught and learned, construction history has to be enjoyed.