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Princeton University

The Art of Structural Engineering: Vaults

Princeton University via edX


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


4.9 rating, based on 22 Class Central reviews

Start your review of The Art of Structural Engineering: Vaults

  • Kenneth Beer
    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…
  • George Katsibokis
    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 a…
  • José Vicente Capa Salinas
    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 a…
  • Anonymous
    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.
  • Anonymous
    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.
  • Profile image for Ikenga Chijioke
    Ikenga Chijioke
    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.
  • Anonymous
    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 rig…
  • Profile image for Margaret Marion Wright
    Margaret Marion Wright
    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. Wh…
  • Anonymous
    This courses are very wonderful and amazing I feel so greatful for having this opportunity of learning more , that’s awesome and very interesting for all of us .
  • Profile image for Branca Fraga R Chaves
    Branca Fraga R Chaves
    Concepção artística descrita entre aciência e a Tecnologia: tenha acesso ao novo de uma forma supreendente e arrojada !!
  • Anonymous
    Boa tarde sou Engenheiro Civil e Engenheiro de Segurança do Trabalho. Tenho interesse em conhecer metodologia diferentes.
  • Anonymous
    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.
  • Anonymous
    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
  • Nionara Do Nascimento Barbosa
    Eu gostei o curso de Engenharia A arte em engenharia estrutural de pontes é incrível,a professora competente ,e vídeo aula muito bem explicada .Eu a prendir muito construção de pontes, estrutura, arte e design.Espero receber meu certificado verificado pela universidade de Princeton.

    Obrigado amo a área de engenharia.
    Nionara aluna
  • Folorunsho Oluwakayode John
    It's a nice course and it will help young graduate of Civil Engineering grow. More importantly, taking the course will expose Civil Engineers to knowledge of Structural details and will give insight of element part of the building and their uses. More so, Engineers will be exposed to technological advancement of the globe.
  • Fusi Charles Neba
    Hi here is my review ,l would like to rate the course as a very important tool in construction because it permit the Engineer to analyze the tensile and compressive strength of a building ,the kind of beams pillars,footings ,strip footings ,ground beams etc.
  • Profile image for Luis C. Pérez Tato
    Luis C. Pérez Tato
    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.
  • Kevin F. MacMillan
    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!
  • Profile image for Andrés Batista Cheung
    Andrés Batista Cheung
    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,

  • Anonymous
    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.

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