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5 TED Talks for Civil Engineers

With rapid advancements in technology, our world looks quite different than it did ten years ago, and drastically different if we look back 50 years. With these changes, many professionals in civil engineering are closely considering our current and future society as they imagine how architectural and civil engineering projects should fit into our dynamic world. For these professionals, measures of social and environmental sustainability should be an integral part of every potential civil engineering project design. In the following TED Talks, five experts reveal how and why these measures should be reflected in the way engineers and designers build and rebuild the world of the future.

Michael Murphy - Architecture That's Built to Heal

Michael Murphy is a world-class architect, most commonly known for developing the award-winning Butaro Hospital in Rwanda following the turmoil that plagued the country in the mid-1990s. Since the completion of this project, Murphy has continued to pursue his vision of social healing as the director of MASS Design Group. In his talk, “Architecture That’s Built to Heal,” Murphy shares what inspired him to study architecture and what propels him to continue his important and innovative work.

Murphy’s thoughts engage us to conceptualize architectural design with the social well-being of people and environmental sustainability in mind. For builders and engineers, this thought process should be applied to both the design and construction of the building, as well as the building process. Designers should lay out strategies that incorporate social solutions, such as utilizing local labor, as a way to contribute to the social and economic health of the community and become what Murphy calls a “transformative engine for change.” This is especially important for firms building in areas that have faced political and social challenges, making Murphy’s work an inspiration to architects and civil engineers seeking to make a positive impact through their work in the 21st century.

Parag Khanna – How Megacities Are Changing the Map of the World

Parag Khanna, global strategist and author of Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, likens the world to the human body with a vast network of vascular connections. As Khanna reveals in his TED Talk, “How Megacities Are Changing the Map of the World,” this unprecedented interaction is a radical departure from the traditional geographical concept of borders and territorial separation. He also points out how the trend of mass urbanization has come to define our human existence, arguing that it is a major attribute of today’s hyper-connectivity. In the talk, Khanna presents a series of maps depicting the world through the lens of these trends, revealing some fascinating perspectives of the world many of us have not yet imagined. This connectedness is a critical tool for civil engineers in developing creative and effective approaches to sustainability, and it also makes it easier for engineers to collaborate on specific projects. According to Khanna, this connectedness can result in a greater shift toward sustainability and more peaceful international relations.

Ole Scheeren – Why Great Architecture Should Tell a Story

Ole Scheeren is a German architect responsible for the design of a number of remarkably innovative structures in Beijing, China, as well as other parts of the world. In his TED Talk, “Why Great Architecture Should Tell a Story,” Scheeren shares his belief that architecture should tell a story that forms a social connection with those who live and work in the space. He expresses the idea during his talk that looking beyond the traditional, functional approach to architecture opens a world of possibility for creative innovation that encompasses a social narrative as part of the building processes.

Many of Scheeren’s design projects illustrate this interesting concept. In the talk, he covers details of his high-rise project in Beijing, the first of its kind, which is just one example of what is possible through progressive design schemes. As Scheeren suggests, rethinking ways to create structures that eliminate isolation and promote social connection can empower civil engineering designers to create greater societal value through their architecture.

Jeff Speck – 4 Ways to Make a City More Walkable

In this TED Talk, “4 Ways to Make a City More Walkable,” Jeff Speck follows up on a previous presentation on a civil engineering concept he calls the “walkable city.” During his talk, he highlights the reasons why there is a need to plan cities in which the use of cars is no longer a necessity for efficient travel. Speck points out issues that impede walkability, such as suburban sprawl and minimal access routes to key locations in various cities, and suggests that rather than conceptualizing city designs based strictly around the automobile, city planners should consider more compact designs that enhance safe and easy pedestrian access. He covers what he believes are four essential elements to make this possible, giving civil engineers and designers some helpful guidelines and details on ways to redesign cities in order to enhance travel safety and efficiency.

Bran Ferren – To Create for the Ages, Let’s Combine Art and Engineering

Bran Ferren opens his intriguing TED Talk on an architectural design by revealing that he was the child of artists. His background includes theatre design and development projects for companies like Disney. Today, he is a co-founder of Applied Minds, a technology and design company. Although Ferren didn’t follow his parents’ career path into art, he explains to his audience how he applies his passion and talent for art in his conceptual approach to engineering. He shares some of the artistic marvels created by humankind and the leaps and bounds made in science and engineering throughout history. The greatest achievements, Ferren asserts, have occurred at junctures in which these disciplines have met in unified harmony. Today, he awaits the next leap in human engineering where art will play an integral role in shaping this innovation. He expresses how our interconnected world powered by the possibility of Internet technology is ripe for a new artistic vision that will change everything. Civil engineers involved in this type of work might consider Ferren’s ideology as a guidepost as they forge ahead in aspiration to realize the world’s next great design.

As these creative professionals suggest through their ideas and bodies of work, our world has reached a point of seemingly unlimited potential. Many would argue that the societal impact civil engineers can make has never been more promising or more challenging. For those individuals who will find their passion in the field of civil engineering, there is an unprecedented opportunity to use technology and a collaborative network of ideas to create something meaningful that will make a lasting impact on the future of humankind.

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As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University offers exceptional opportunities to help advance your knowledge, target your skills, and gain greater proficiency as a professional civil engineer. The online Master of Civil Engineering program at Norwich University is designed to enhance your technical knowledge, management skills and engineering competence by delivering a modern, practice-orientated education that fosters creativity and critical thinking for problem-solving and innovation.

Recommended Readings
The Civil Engineer’s Role in the Wastewater Treatment Process
5 Civil Engineering Trends


Michael Murphy: Architecture that’s built to heal, TED2016

Parag Khanna: How megacities are changing the map of the world, TED2016

Ole Scheeren: Why great architecture should tell a story, TEDGlobal London

Jeff Speck: 4 ways to make a city more walkable, TEDxMidAtlantic

Bran Ferren: To create for the ages, let’s combine art and engineering, TED2014

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