Built Book Summary By Roma Agrawal

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Built is an insightful exploration of the world's unsung heroes - structural engineers.

Agrawal takes readers on a journey to explore the structures of our world and the people who bring them to life.

This book shines a light on how depressingly often engineering is only in the news when something goes horribly wrong; like when a building crumbles or a bridge collapses.

But, Built offers more than just tragedy, it brings together stories and engaging facts to offer a deeper insight into why structural engineers are so important.

Built Book

Book Name: Built (The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures)

Author(s): Roma Agrawal

Rating: 4/5

Reading Time: 31 Minutes

Categories: Technology & the Future

Author Bio

Roma Agrawal is a London-based structural engineer, most well-known for her work on the Shard in London.

This remarkable structure is currently the tallest building in western European and stands as a testimony to Roma's incredible engineering capabilities.

Roma is also a strong advocate for making engineering more accessible, especially among women.

Through her various initiatives, she hopes to encourage and empower the next generation of aspiring engineers - inspiring them to take the leap towards a career in engineering that can make an impact on their lives.

Get Ready To Explore The Engineering Genius Behind The Structures We Take For Granted


Take a trip into the magical world of construction!

When it comes to getting a better grasp on the history of structural engineering, there’s no better place to go than Built.

It is a comprehensive look at some of mankind’s greatest achievements; from their ingenuitive problem solving to their clever and innovative designs.

With Built, you can explore the stories behind these amazing creations and how they were able to withstand natural disasters with remarkable strength.

Through this journey, you’ll come to appreciate the skill and artistry that goes into constructing structures we live and work in every day, as well as those around the world which we admire in pictures.

Moreover, Built will teach you why human excrement was once so valuable, how people access water in arid countries and even which animals are good models when it comes to building strong structures.

So take some time out and explore the fascinating world of construction with Built!

How Structural Engineering Uses Compression And Tension To Construct Buildings

An engineer’s job is to design and build structures that can withstand the forces of nature.

This means understanding both the compression and tension forces that act upon those structures, and ensuring that these are dealt with to the best of their ability in order to protect the integrity of the structure.

To do this, engineers use two systems: the load-bearing system which channels compression, and the frame system which deals with tension forces.

Load-bearing structures channel weight directly through walls or supports that are thick enough for it, whereas frame systems involve connecting pieces together and distributing weight perpendicularly throughout a structure.

Ancient civilizations understood this idea intuitively judging by mud huts they built using load-bearing walls, but it wasn’t until they found suitable trees to serve as frames that they began building larger structures with greater longevity.

Today’s engineers apply modern technology, materials, and building practices in order to create more durable and safe buildings – innovation such as seismic proofing combined with knowledge of physics gives them an edge when it comes to keeping us safe from natural disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes.

The Building Blocks Of Structures: From Columns And Beams To Cores And Diagrids

Columns And Beams

When it comes to modern structures, many of the same components are employed today as were used in the earliest days of construction.

Columns, beams and trusses are still basic features of any structure’s frame.

Even the most complex designs incorporate elements of these ancient building tools.

Columns have been around since ancient times, and you can find some truly remarkable examples within Greek and Roman architecture.

Upright pillars that channel compression, columns form a vital part of structural frames even today.

This is why they remain so prominent in artwork, such as those found adorning Athens’ Parthenon and Rome’s Forum.

Horizontal supports like beams have been used throughout history to form the skeletons of floors and ceilings.

These often consist of wood, steel or reinforced concrete that distribute weight outwards towards its supportive pillars.

Finding Balance: Skyscrapers, Tuned Mass Dampers And Other Technologies Used To Combat Natural Forces

Structural engineers have a challenging job of taking into account all of the forces, natural and otherwise, that can affect buildings and other structures.

Wind and earthquakes are two of these forces which must be taken into consideration when designing or renovating buildings.

For wind, engineers must measure the building site’s normal wind speed as well as factors like its proximity to ocean, altitude, and surrounding terrain so they can accurately calculate the severity of the wind force.

For skyscrapers, this often requires a physical model be constructed in order to be tested in a wind tunnel for accuracy.

When it comes to earthquakes, research must first be conducted regarding past quakes so that a building’s resonance frequency can be determined and avoided.

Also bearings may be mounted on columns to absorb vibrations should an earthquake occur.

Additionally dampers may also be installed between columns, beams and braces for additional protection from tremors and aftershocks.

This is especially important in areas known for frequent seismic activity.

How A Single Tragedy In London Transformed The Art Of Building High-Rises

Disasters can teach us a great deal about improving building practices.

Take the tragedy of Ivy Hodge in 1968, when she attempted to make a cup of tea and it resulted in four deaths due to a defective boiler that had been leaking gas into her apartment.

This showed us that prefabricated blocks need more than just friction and a small amount of concrete to keep them firmly affixed together.

Then, there’s the collapse of the Twin Towers in 2001, which highlighted how important it was to account for things like size and fuel capacities of airplanes when designing structures as well as the type of materials used and how they should be protected from fire.

We now understand why we need to build with stability and concrete cores; this way people have an escape route if ever disaster were to occur again.

Disasters act as invaluable lessons for engineers looking for ways to improve design, construction and building safety standards, so it’s essential we take note of them!

No one wants something like this to happen ever again!

From Jericho To Rome, The History Of Brick And Mortar Architecture – And How Metal Revolutionized The Landscape

Brick And Mortar Architecture

Structural engineering has come a long way in the past 11,000 years as our materials and methods for construction have improved considerably.

In 9000 BCE, when the neolithic inhabitants of Jericho constructed their beehive-shaped domiciles out of clay bricks, it marked the beginning of an era which would eventually lead to modern buildings.

The people of the Indus Valley soon followed by utilizing kilns to fire and harden their bricks until around 2900 BCE and showed innovation far ahead of its time.

But it was not until the Romans came along that great strides were made in both brick production and architecture.

They developed sophisticated techniques for mixing perfect clays, precisely knowing how long a brick should dry before firing and utilized them extensively with arches that would remain standing for centuries until the fall of their empire in 476 CE.

Afterwards, it took 600 years for such advanced brick production techniques and grandiose arches to return to what is now modern-day western civilization.

One can’t build with bricks alone however, mortar also plays an important role in any successful construction projects since it binds together all structures while preventing water from seeping in over time despite temperature fluxuations or other stresses placed upon them.

Egyptians even concluded that a mixture lime mortars should be used since they became more resistant after drying which held up over time much better than the gypsum plaster previously used by many ancient civilizations.

Chinese builders further innovated by including sticky rice into some mortars found within The Great Wall whose flexibility prevented cracking from taking place under extreme weather conditions.

Concrete: A Seemingly Unremarkable Substance That Revolutionized Construction

When people think of concrete they often think of it being boring and unexciting, but this couldn’t be further from the truth!

Not only do awe-inspiring structures like Rome’s Pantheon towers which are around 2,000 years old, and contemporary towering skyscrapers depend on concrete for their existence, but the substance itself is fairly complex.

At its core, concrete is a mix of limestone and clay which has been heated to an incredibly hot temperature until the mixture binds together – that’s cement.

Needless to say, when you add water to the cement it will become solid once dry.

What makes concrete even more exciting is that you can add sand or gravel if you’re short on cement and increase the volume without compromising its strength.

Concrete can resist compression as much as 16 times better than brick due to its molecular makeup.

Moreover, unlike brick structures where mortar holds weak points together, concrete structures don’t have weak points since they’re cast as a single piece ensuring uniform structural soundness.

Elisha Otis’ Invention Of The Safety Elevator Enables Humanity To Reach New Heights

Modern structures have made incredible strides in the last few centuries – in terms of both height and safety.

The first skyscraper – the Chicago’s Home Insurance Building from 1884 – stood just 68 meters tall, a mere fraction compared to today’s monsters such as Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which clocks in at an impressive 828 meters!

But what have enabled us to build such tremendous structures? One key factor has been the introduction of elevators.

Elevators have existed since Roman times but it was only within recent decades that they became safe enough for people to use – many thanks to Elisha Otis’ invention of a ‘safety elevator’ in 1853.

Now we have 7 billion people relying on these safe transport systems every 72 hours!

Throughout history we’ve seen our tallest building grow taller and taller.

Even up until recently, the tallest structure was traditionally held by cathedrals before eventually being overtaken by the Great Pyramid of Giza over 4,000 years ago – with only becoming able to construct something even taller after Elisha Otis’ contraption changed how we viewed elevators forever.

Today, thanks to better engineering and daring ambition, modern structures can reach for greater heights than ever before!

Engineers Must Understand Ground Conditions To Avoid Long-Term Consequences: The Case Of Mexico City’S Metropolitan Cathedral

Mexico City'S Metropolitan Cathedral

It is well known that the ground upon which a structure is built can determine its long-term future.

Unfortunately, this was something that the Aztecs found out ages ago when trying to build their city of Tenochtitlan in Lake Texcoco.

They were met with frequent floods due to the area’s low-lying land, and the Spanish Conquistadors who followed them did nothing to help matters by felling all the surrounding trees and filling in most of the lake to extend their city.

The consequences for this negligence are still being felt today.

Mexico City’s historical center has sunk by around 10 meters over the last 150 years as a result of poor soil compaction caused by all these centuries of building on top of clay and soil layers.

This sinking problem is evident in just one example: The Metropolitan Cathedral, which had one corner standing 2.4 meters higher than the other by 1910 due to uneven settling below it.

A team headed up by Dr.

Efrain Ovando Whitney came up with an innovative solution: drilling 32 access shafts containing 1,500 extraction holes filled with 4,220 cubic meters of soil removed from beneath the cathedral so as to even out the tilt and slow down further sinking due to uneven settling in years to come.

This goes to show how important it is for an engineer or architect before building any structure to get an understanding of what kind of ground his project will be built on – otherwise there may be serious long-term considerations for its future like we have seen with Mexico City and its cathedral!

Creative Engineering Has Helped Find And Utilize Water Sources For Centuries

Dry regions with scarce water sources find themselves in a difficult position.

However, structural engineers have become quite adept at providing creative solutions to keep these populations supplied with precious water.

Ancient Persians did this by constructing kariz, an ingenious project that requires digging holes into the sides of hills.

You look for moist soil and then leave a bucket in the damp part of the hole for a few days; if it fills up, you know you’ve found an aquifer – a subterranean repository of water in the rocks.

The next step is to dig several wells which each go deeper than the last, and connect them with a horizontal tunnel that goes down to reach the aquifer’s water and make it ready for people to use.

There are currently 35,000 kariz all across Iran and even today many still provide drinkable water for citizens.

Even in places like Singapore where there’s plenty of ocean around but limited fresh water sources they have been able to produce up to 85% of their needed fresh water through new innovations and smart engineering.

They collect 90 percent of rainfall, extensively reuse wastewater, and operate large desalination plants to convert saltwater into drinking-quality H2O.

Innovative construction technology like this can help dry areas find access to clean drinking water – even when no readily available source exists on its own.

How A Good Waste-Management System Can Enhance Quality Of Life: A Tale Of Two Cities

The history of human excrement contains the history of civilization.

It’s no secret our waste has shaped how societies function throughout the ages, and it’s an under-discussed topic that deserves more attention.

In Japan’s Middle Ages, farmers ran short on fertilizer for the growing population.

To make up for this shortage, farmers began to use human feces or what was known as “night soil” to fertilize their crops.

This soon became a lucrative business and laws were passed that made landlords the legal owners of their tenants’ feces – although urine was exempt from these regulations.

In London during its early years, sewage systems weren’t in place yet, so all human waste including corpses were simply thrown into the Thames or one of its tributaries; this ultimately led to health problems such as cholera.

Finally, Parliament took action and Joseph Bazalgette was assigned to design an extensive network of tunnels beneath the Thames which would carry the city’s waste out to sea and away from its people.

He designed these sewers with a future population in mind, allowing enough space for a 4 million people – double its current number at the time.

After 2,100 kilometers of tunnel were completed in 1875, London has never been better off since then when it comes to eliminating waste!

How Emily Warren Roebling Broke The Glass Ceiling And Built The Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

It’s no secret that women are often underrepresented when it comes to engineering and construction.

Emily Warren Roebling is a perfect example of a brave and powerful woman that has set an example in the industry.

Emily had always been interested in engineering, so it was only natural for her to join her husband Washington Roebling as he travelled abroad to study construction techniques for the building of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1865.

She assisted him with his research and studied engineering herself in preparation.

When Washington contracted bouts of tetanus, Emily had to assume all of his roles including communicating directly with the workers on-site, writing down his instructions, studying complex principles and managing all correspondence related to building the bridge.

Despite facing opposition from members of the city who wanted to appoint a new chief engineer, she persevered until its opening in 1883 where she stood beside President Chester A.


By breaking down barriers such as gender roles, Emily Warren Roebling serves as an inspiring reminder that female engineers have had and continue to play a significant role in the field.

Her legacy shows us the power of simply refusing to back down even when faced by discouraging odds.

The Future Of Engineering Is Bright, With Cheaper Building Techniques, 3D Printing And Robotics, And Biomimicry All Set To Transform Constructions Projects

The future of structural engineering looks very bright.

With the emergence of cheaper and modern construction techniques, engineers are finding new ways to build structures without worrying about costly and outdated methods.

For example, plastic molds can be used instead of expensive plywood molds to construct concrete structures, making them more affordable with the added bonus of being reusable.

3D printing is another development that has made it possible to reduce production costs while using recycled materials, something that has been demonstrated in Madrid’s 3D-printed pedestrian bridge.

Robots are being used more frequently during mundane construction processes such as bricklaying and pouring concrete, and advances in biomimicry are benefiting our buildings designs.

Structures such as Stuttgart’s Landesgartenschau Exhibition Hall have already been modeled after the skeleton of a sea urchin for strength and lightweight features.

Phil Purnell at the University of Leeds is working on robots that could one day be able to analyze weaknesses in infrastructure so the necessary repairs can be carried out quickly and efficiently.

All these advancements point to a bright future for structural engineering filled with innovative possibilities limited only by our imaginations.

Wrap Up

At the end of Built, the reader is left with an understanding that modern architectural masterpieces are the product of thousands of years of building experience.

With this knowledge, one can appreciate structures around them in a greater way.

It also emphasizes how complex and rewarding an engineer’s job is both today and in the future as new, unforeseen technologies further up the ante for what engineers can create.

In a nutshell, when you finish Built you have gained a greater appreciation for all sorts of engineering feats, from seeing forces nature will exert on a structure to analyzing the ground on which it stands.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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