Newsletter | Jan/Feb 2016

Get to Know a Member in 5 Questions

by Hana Mori Böttger
I am a Californian who had every intention to become a filmmaker when leaving high school, but somehow in college got turned on to structural engineering. These days I teach integrated structural materials, structural design and architecture courses as Assistant Professor at University of San Francisco. I'm the director of the Architecture & Community Design (ARCD), Architectural Engineering and ARCD Honors programs. I love hanging out with students every day, using hands-on experimental techniques and community engagement to provide them as rich an education as possible. Teaching is Believing!

1. What book has changed how you look at the world?

The single most influential book in my life so far has been The Catcher in the Rye, in particular the concept of a person becoming a tiny bit different with every observation, every experience, no matter how small.

2. How has someone’s mentoring made a difference in your life or career?

When I was in engineering school I became very interested in earthen structural materials, especially adobe. By some miracle the most prominent adobe structural researcher, Dr. Marcial Blondet, happened to be Principal Development Engineer at the very same institution and absolutely took me under his wing. He has continued to mentor and advise me to this day. I also needed to find a bit of funding for my thesis project, and not exactly finding much support for earthen material research, decided to apply to the American Concrete Institute for funds. It so happened that Dr. Fred Webster, California's "go to" structural engineer for seismic retrofits to historic adobe structures, was on the committee reviewing these applications. As he later told me, "every application looked the same - and then there was yours!" I did not get the funding, but Fred was amused enough by my nerve at applying to the ACI for this funding that he contacted me himself and promptly hired me to be his research assistant. His tireless mentorship of me continued until his passing late last year. Without him, and Marcial, I am quite sure my life would have turned out quite differently, possibly with less joy and less "playing with mud". I try every day to give back their mentorship to my students.

3. If civilization were to collapse tomorrow, what one object would you most want to have?

My violin, and I would hope to sneak in a bow as well! I have played violin for long enough that it is connected to my breathing and heartbeat. Also, if the collapse of civilization implies no people to talk to, the violin would be another voice I could listen to.

4. In a parallel life, what would be your line of work?

I wouldn't mind being an astronaut! But there are days when my current life is pretty far out!

5. What has changed since you started in your field?

In my infancy in the industry about 15 years ago, it still seemed to me that the work of the architect or engineer was rooted in an apprenticeship-style system, learning the ropes about building construction and design, and communicating these decisions clearly. Just in the last decade I have noticed two major changes. The first is not good: the breakdown of mentorship. Because we are surrounded, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, by the high-tech industry with a very different mentality toward and turnover rate of tools and products, we see both employees and employers expecting shorter and shorter commitments in either direction. On the other hand, the other change I have noticed is very interesting and quite positive: a move toward whole-systems design thinking. It is becoming more and more apparent that every design decision, from whether to build or not all the way to material choices and operational resource costs have such great impact on our health and the survival of our planet, that all design professionals must consider the tradeoffs associated with their decisions. I think this kind of global thinking is flexing a nimbleness muscle which design professionals generally seem well-suited for. We shall see...

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