Distressed wooden desk with a typewriter on it.
(Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash)

By Margaret M. Mitchell

Humans are the caretakers of the Earth, and civil engineers are the masters of the built environment,” wrote former ASCE President Maria C. Lehman, P.E., NAC, ENV SP, F.ASCE, in the March/April 2023 President’s Note.

It takes imagination, ambition, and determination to be such a person. Your commitment to the health, safety, and welfare of society as well as to the profession fuel your desire to create, to improve, and to leave a legacy of good. It’s that drive and determination — “the will,” so to speak — that are on display in this issue.

The Power of Electricity and Drills,” this issue’s History Lesson, is a fascinating tale about the will of civil engineers to optimize travel in the 1800s, designing and carrying out the construction of a railroad tunnel through Massachusetts’ Hoosac Mountain range. To be sure, necessity played a key role in the tunnel’s construction, as it opened up a faster way for the transport of people and goods, but you’d be hard-pressed to say there wasn’t a fair amount of ambition and a good dose of hubris that went into thinking that burrowing through solid rock would be simple. It took nearly 25 years, but not even bankruptcy, equipment failure, or the loss of life weakened the resolve to conquer this formidable foe.

The will to design for the challenges to come and inspire current and future engineers to build sustainable, lasting infrastructure are highlighted in “Designing Cities of the Future.” Paul Lee, P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE, spoke with Civil Engineering about ASCE’s upcoming IMAX film Cities of the Future: Reimagining Our World and what filmgoers can expect to get out of it. Lee describes the film as a “love letter to thinking outside the boundaries,” and thinking outside the boundaries is what you do every day to devise ingenious solutions to complex problems.

The will to foster collaboration between engineering disciplines to create a space that is flexible, dynamic, and awe-inspiring characterizes “Engineering Ingenuity.” Located on the campus of the University of California San Diego, Franklin Antonio Hall, part of the Jacobs School of Engineering, will “fuel the next generation of cutting-edge research and innovation,” according to the authors.

Accelerating Electric” highlights the will to build electric vehicle infrastructure for transit agencies that will lessen our reliance on fossil fuels and move people in a more environmentally friendly and effective way. From design to implementation, this type of change takes careful planning, stakeholder buy-in, and a willingness to leave behind what worked in the past to implement a system more efficient for this planet we call home.

The will to adapt and beautify are hallmarks of “Green Bunker.” By adding several new levels and an outdoor walkway and covering them in greenery, civil engineers all but transformed a former World War II anti-aircraft bunker. Though it still looms large against the Hamburg, Germany, skyline, the changes have given a new life to this structure — inside and out.

Timber Rises” tells the story of the construction of Ascent, currently the world’s tallest mass timber hybrid building. We see the will of civil engineers to push boundaries and to be first in class, thus setting “a precedent for the future of tall mass timber construction in the U.S.,” according to the authors.

And finally, “Connecting Croatia” personifies the will to dream, to act on that dream, and to see it to completion. Pelješac Bridge, which connects the mainland to the Pelješac Peninsula, was a cross-continental effort and one that the engineers involved describe as the country’s “largest and most iconic bridge engineering project to date.”

We’ve reached a new year — a time to embrace new possibilities even in the midst of impossible odds and unprecedented situations. What do you have the will to do?

Margaret M. Mitchell is the editor in chief of Civil Engineering print magazine

This article first appeared in the January/February 2024 print issue of Civil Engineering as “The Will.”

Cities of the Future: Reimagining Our World opens on Feb 16! Want more Cities of the Future content? Check out a podcast with Paul Lee, view the trailer, and find a theater near you.