Rights: The University of Waikato Published 21 July 2007 Download

Seismic engineering makes use of the latest technology, but some of its breakthrough ideas are based on knowledge of the ancient world. Dr Stefano Pampanin of Canterbury University explains how we can learn from buildings that are still standing after thousands of years.


So what happen when you start studying engineering, you go back to basics of statics. Basics of stability, basics of dynamics, basic of materials. And these have been already done by people as smart as us if not much more, because they did not have our technology - they did not have the computer - which are the ancestors. They’ve been building structures which are still with us, and I typically show to my students beautiful pantheon, or beautiful Ionic or Doric temples, which we still see after 2500, or 3000 years. And why nowadays we’re designing structures which are supposed to withstand only 100 years? Because the economy is telling us to do so.

Now by reading back, we can learn so much. It’s like we have beautiful literature that says we should be sitting on the shoulders of our ancestors. And if you do so, if those shoulders are tall and high, we are simply able to go higher and higher. Instead of starting from scratch, because sometimes of arrogance, or sometimes we think that we know more, we are smarter, or… we simply don’t read back. So the more our student will be reading, and learning, and reading newspaper, and going back to books, the more he will be able to broaden his mind which will be the most important part.