San Andreas Movie: A Structural Engineer’s Perspective

During a recent trip, I decided to rent the movie “San Andreas” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Paul Giamatti.  The movie follows a rescue pilot (Johnson) during a series of large earthquakes stretching from Las Vegas to San Francisco along the San Andreas Fault as he tries to save members of his family.  Overall, it was entertaining and worth watching.  But the engineer in me couldn’t resist noticing the way the movie depicted how a seismic event would impact the buildings, bridges and structures in the movie’s principle setting of San Francisco.

In the movie. it seemed as though nearly every skyscraper toppled over, broke in half or split vertically into two sections; a rather bleak outlook for modern construction.  But is this really how we can expect our modern buildings to behave in a serious earthquake or during “the big one?” (more…)

How Necessary is a Geotechnical Report When Designing A Building?

What Owners & Developers Should Know:

Notice that the title of this discussion doesn’t start with, “When is it Necessary”? I would also take it a step further and say that the title of this discussion should have an exclamation mark at the end of the title in lieu of a question mark.  Truly, a wise man will build his house upon a rock.

The stark reality of the matter is that no one knows what is underneath the ground until you drill down and analyze the soil condition.  For example, below the site, there could be an old mine shaft, large amounts of pyrite, global instabilities due to topography, etc.


A common misconception shared by many is that structural engineers analyze and determine the soil properties on a given site for their foundation design.  A structural engineer’s scope of work encompasses the design of a structure down to the bottom of the foundation.  The soil conditions are to be determined by a licensed professional geotechnical engineer.  Therefore, in order to design a foundation for a structure, there must be soil recommendations for that particular site.  (more…)

Gracefully Flipping 50 Tons of Steel Like a Pancake

Building a structure made of steel takes a good bit of work. Design, construction planning and erection are all accounted for from conception to completion of a typical building project to withstand gravity loads, earthquakes, wind and snow. Now imagine that structure, still made out of steel, has to float in the water while carrying 1,500 tons or more. This is the daily business of Brownsville Marine Products, taking care of the assembly of these massive structures and almost literally “throwing” them into the river when completed (safely, of course).


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