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Online Course

The Art of Structural Engineering: Vaults

Princeton University via edX


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In this engineering course you will learn how to analyze vaults (long-span roofs) from three perspectives:

  1. Efficiency = calculations of forces/stresses
  2. Economy = evaluation of societal context and cost
  3. Elegance = form/appearance based on engineering principles, not decoration
We explore iconic vaults like the Pantheon, but our main focus is on contemporary vaults built after the industrial revolution. The vaults we examine are made of different materials, such as tile, reinforced concrete, steel and glass, and were created by masterful engineers/builders like Rafael Guastavino, Anton Tedesko, Pier Luigi Nervi, Eduardo Torroja, Félix Candela, and Heinz Isler.

This course illustrates:
  • how engineering is a creative discipline and can become art
  • the influence of the economic and social context in vault design
  • the interplay between forces and form

The course has been created for a general audience—no advanced math or engineering prerequisites are needed.  This is the second of three courses on the Art of Structural Engineering, each of which are independent of each other. The course on bridges was launched in 2016, and another course will be developed on buildings/towers.

Taught by

Maria Garlock

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Reviews for edX's The Art of Structural Engineering: Vaults Based on 17 reviews

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  • 1
José S
José completed this course.
Amazing course. I loved everything of it, from the lectures to the structural studies. It is indeed a course open to all, whether you are an engineer or a fan of structures. With the videos, you can study in a very visual manner, with explanations and animations appropriate to the topic and with facts that will tie better your interest with the new knowledge.

A personal favorite and I look forward to the third part of this series.

I am from Ecuador and here we speak spanish. I have a very good level of english so it was easy to follow this course. However, if you are not very good at english, you can always turn on the subtitles, pause and try to listen again. This course is an excelente opportunity to practice listening and writing. The audio is perfect, the visuals are on-point and you will always find an explanation for new words or you can read them in the glossary present before every lecture.
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Anonymous completed this course.
As a structural engineer, I find the course very interesting and inspiring.

The lectures, the tasks, and the discussion panels are enjoyable and practical.

Thanks to Prof. Garlock and the team for this well-structured course.

The course on Bridges is so amazing too. Waiting for the course on Buildings.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Ikenga C
Ikenga completed this course.
Vaults are a challenging area of structural analysis to which this course provides a useful introduction. One is encouraged to read further if one wants to. One learns about many buildings from one's fellow students.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Anonymous completed this course.
The weekly discussion forum assignments allow participants to submit images and a statement pertaining to the topic of interest. It was enjoyable viewing the various architectural forms from around the globe.
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Anonymous completed this course.
I would like to congratulate Professor Garlock, her colleagues and the course team for developing the excellent content presented in this course "The Art of Structural Engineering: Vaults".

The course content was enjoyable, practical and to the right level of detail for the online presentation. I am a structural engineer by background but working in senior management for quite sometime. This course provided me the opportunity to refresh my knowledge of the basics as well as the inspiration to keep thinking outside the box for coming up with innovative structural solutions which ar…
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Margaret W
by Margaret completed this course.
I loved this course. I am an art history teacher and theorist from New Zealand and have taken many MOOCs that allow access to internationally respected institutions. Maria is fantastic. She is respectful and engaging and has great course content. While the mathematical problems were more challenging, I was grateful to have information on hand that made a non- maths graduate feel comfortable enough to conquer the challenge. From a humanities background, I loved the way this course explores and highlights social-cultural aspects alongside the structural engineering foundations of the content. I …
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Kenneth B
Kenneth is taking this course right now.
First about me. I’m a retired 71 year old mechanical engineer who has a love of everything engineering. It’s been a rewarding experience to attempt this course. I’ve finished as much as I can do without assistance from the course staff. My score is 70% unassisted. I’m seeking staff help with one structural study because I do not have the tools at hand and a manual solution is possible.

Second if you are not a student/practising/retired mathematician, physicist, engineer or architect you’ll struggle to complete everything in this course. The Calculation Exercises will be too diffic…
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
George K
George completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.
Perhaps one of the best MOOC courses for seasoned engineers and structures enthusiasts alike. I loved every minute of it!

The course is based on the material and life work of the legendary Professor Billington and is superbly organised, presented and conveyed by Prof. Maria Garlcok. Prior knowledge is not required to enjoy it, but if you happen to be an engineer you will appreciate a bit more the content. Apart from the direct knowledge-sharing, the course comprised a portal to a wealth of information for further study.

As a professional engineer with a passion for hi…
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Sukhwinder G
Sukhwinder completed this course, spending 1 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very easy.
Dear Sir/ Madam,

1. I must compliment you for designing the course in the most logical, effective and methodological manner to impart the knowledge and skills for enhancing the understanding of vaults design.

2. The course has effectively succeeded in not only enhancing the structural knowledge but also ignited the "Elegance" aspect of the structures.

3. I have immensely gained from the course and has changed my outlook of viewing the structural engg. Inspired by this course , I have designed a hexagonal hyparbolic paraboloid structure inspired by Felix Candela in the Leh ladakh region of Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

4. I have yet not received the certification of successfully completing the course. You are requested to send it on prority.


Sukhwinder Singh
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Anonymous completed this course.
This is a beautifully designed course with superbly judged content. It covers the development of long span roofs from domes to barrels to parabolas and then hyperbolic parabolas. It describes the creativity of the twentieth century structural designers and builders who made thin reinforced concrete shells possible and elegant. And it doesn't shy away from the maths of the topic but even if the maths is beyond you the course is a joy anyway.

A final segment on modern steel and glass roofs finishes it off elegantly.

I really enjoyed the course.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Anonymous completed this course.
Dear professor Garlock, dear course staff,

I enjoyed every moment of every lecture in this course and every task I needed to solve. During creative challenges, it was so interesting to see the buildings students chose, especially those buildings I probably would never know they existed if I did not see them in these discussions.

I hope I will have enough time to listen and complete your course about bridges.

Kind regards and good luck in the future!

Emilija Nikolić
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Kevin M
Kevin completed this course.
Maria Garlock is a top notch instructor wose enthusiasm brings a wonderful learning experience to the curious. This is the second course I hae had the opportunity to enjoy her engineering mind and Presentation.

Bravo ! Thanks!
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Luis T
Luis completed this course.
I've enjoyed the course very much. A very inspiring course that encourages you to achieve a deeper understanding of vault design and to know more about structural engineers.

Thanks to María Garlock and her team for their work.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Andrés C
Andrés completed this course.
I loved the course. It was very satisfying to complete it.

I believe the willingness to provide a course for all parts of the fantastic planet and is the true universalization of teaching.

Best Regards,

Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Joseph Z
Joseph completed this course.
One of the best MOOC structure courses. Amazing, very well structured presented by Professor Maria Garlock.

Course on Bridges was also very interesting. Waiting for course on Buildings !
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Anonymous completed this course.
The course is really helpful for a jump start of learning structural engineering and the architectural concept behind those beautiful structures. Course structure organized very well.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Lutfi M
by Lutfi completed this course.
Professor Maria is a really nice, passionate, motivating and excellent. We would be happy if we get an opportunity to be her research associate in the future.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
  • 1

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