Engineering in Art, Engineering as Art

Get Smart Season 1. Wile E Coyote. Experiments with Simple Machines by Mark Weakland.

Wile E Coyote and the engineers in the C.O.N.T.R.O.L. Laboratory that created the devices that backfired so spectacularly on Agent 86 Maxwell Smart may not be the engineers to emulate but just thinking back to them makes me remember how much engineering there was in the high concept crazy comedies of the 1960s … the Addams Family may have been living in a Victorian pile but they had the latest consumer electronics. Thing used to set up the apparatus to show home movies on a ghost’s sheet, and change records on their record player. There were astronauts … I Dream of Jeannie … and architects in Mr. Ed and the Brady Bunch.


And I’ve probably missed a few throughout the years but the next wisecracking engineer that registers is astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian, both Andy Weir’s book and Ridley Scott’s movie.


“When Wile E. exerts a force to lift a rock or dig a hole, he does work. In science, work is defined as the effort or force needed to move an object over a certain distance. Using simple machines would make Wile E.’s work much easier. Why? Because simple machines reduce the amount of force he needs to move something. If he pushed a lever or pulled a rope on a pulley, the same work would be done with a lot less force.”

The book I’m writing now is on robotics. About the technology and engineering, the equipment ,and then putting this in a cultural context. Things like the Mars Rover and Robert Ballard’s undersea explorer robots are easy to write about, I can mentally take them apart. But digital machines, where everything is reduced and hidden. That’s another story I haven’t quite figured out. Mostly it’s a question of descriptions of scale, how to convey the smallness of something when there are no useful metaphors.

The fascinating thing about writing my Sydney Opera House book along the timeline of Arup’s underground loading dock project is how artists and engineers are now working with the same tools.



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