History Department / Environmental Science, Policy, and Engineering Program (ESPE)


HST-291 / ENS-291, Fall 2020

Professor Dr. Ashraf Ghaly, P.E.
Department Engineering
Office Olin 102D
Tel., email 518-388-6515, ghalya@union.edu

Lectures: TTH 10:55 AM - 12:40 PM, Olin-306. Click HERE for class presentations and course materials.


An interdisciplinary introduction to the technology of construction and the social uses of building by humans. The course will consider types of building materials and their application to domestic housing, castles, cathedrals, palaces, monuments, dams, bridges, tunnels, factories, and office buildings. No prerequisite. SET credit.


Mid-Term Test (Th, 6th week) = 35%

Project Humanstruction = 15%

Participation = 15%

Final Examination = 35%

90+ = A 85+ = A(-) 80+ = B(+) 75+ = B 70+ = B(-) 65+ = C(+) 60+ = C 55+ = C(-) 50+ = D






Throughout history, different civilizations have used construction as means to display their greatness. Construction has always been influenced by historical, cultural, social, environmental, natural, and engineering factors. Humanity has always sought ways to advance the art and science of construction to better serve its needs. Despite these great ambitions, the state of knowledge and availability of proper construction materials have necessarily controlled and limited what was actually constructed. Furthermore, in some areas construction is affected by natural conditions such as earthquakes, heat, snow, wind, rain, humidity, and floods. These conditions cannot be controlled or regulated and have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The difficulties and rewards associated with constructing massive or unusual structures have long been a source of fascination and challenge which humans have shown ready willingness to accept.

This course is mainly concerned with the human side of construction. Its goal is to understand how the engineering of structures is closely knit with historical, cultural, social, environmental, and natural factors.

The course will conclude with thoughts about the relationship between construction and humanity in the twenty-first century.


Seven major themes will be addressed in this course:

1. Earth as a construction material used in large structures, such as dams, or as a small structural component in itself, such as masonry or bricks

Earth (soil) was one of the early construction materials found in abundance which could be easily processed and molded into desired shapes. The type of earth available in a given region, however, limited the type and scope of applications. The relationship between construction and earth throughout history will be explored. The historical and engineering perspectives will begin with the origin of human construction and proceed to the following points:

* The need for shelter

* Building materials

* Environmental factors

* Building techniques

* The emergence of villages and urban civilization

2. Domestic housing in the Ancient World

Small houses in which ordinary people spent most of their lives have seen constant changes in style, method of construction, and construction materials. These factors will be examined together with their influence on improving people's lives. The historical and engineering perspectives will cover the following points:

* Construction styles

* Impact of climate on construction

* Use of materials in construction

* Culture, customs, and construction

3. Large domestic and public structures: castles, and cathedrals.

In many societies wealthy secular or religious elites have used their power to build imposing structures designed to enhance their status. In Europe the transition from wood to stone as a primary construction material is especially evident in this category. Three historical and engineering perspectives will be covered:

* Castles: From Wood and Earth to Stone

* Cathedrals: Pointed Arch and Flying Buttress

* Palaces in Renaissance Florence

4. Uninhabitable structures such as monuments and dams

Civilizations throughout history dreamed of ways to commemorate their achievements. Construction of monuments was one to achieve this goal. Although monuments are uninhabitable structures, they were always used to symbolize what nations attempted to achieve. The historical and engineering perspectives will cover the following points:

* The Pyramids of Egypt

* The Eiffel Tower

* Hoover Dam

5. Large structures over gaps or waterways (bridges) or underground (tunnels)

Different civilizations viewed waterways or mountains as obstructions crippling or reducing their progress. Bridges and tunnels were thought of as possible solutions to connect different people, encourage commerce, or establish new communities. The social and historical implications of bridge and tunnel construction have been enormous, and this course will cover both the engineering and human aspects of large structures.

* Bridges: The Brooklyn Bridge

* Tunnels: The Channel Tunnel

* Subway systems

6. Large workplace structures such as factories and high-rise office buildings

These two types of construction will be examined in terms of how they change the workplace. The historical and engineering aspects of these structures will be covered from the following perspectives:

* Factories and industrial facilities

* High-rise structures and office buildings (Example: The Empire State Building)

7. Futuristic structures

An overview of innovative and unusual designs.


1. The project, called Humanstruction, will ask each student to pick a subject of interest or a noteworthy structure within the framework of the course and write a paper on that subject.

2. Students can select their subject at anytime during the course but no later than the 6th week of the term. All papers must be on different subjects.

3. A subject cannot be selected by more than one student. A student that was the first in selecting a given subject would be the only one entitled to it. The earlier you select a subject, the wider the selection available to you.

4. You have the right to drop a subject you selected and select a different one as long as this is done no later than the 6th week of the term (provided that the new subject had not been previously taken by another student).

5. Once you settled on a subject, email the instructor a title for your paper and one sentence description of your intended subject. The instructor will post the titles and the one sentence descriptions of all papers (without the names of proposing students) on the course's website as soon as he receives the emails. This will serve as reference of subjects already taken and have become unavailable.


1. Students may collect the materials (technical and non-technical) for their chosen project from one or more of the following sources: the Internet, publications, professional journals, magazines, textbooks, movies, documentaries, and all other credible sources including interviews with knowledgeable and experienced individuals.

2. Students are required to cite in their report all the sources they used in their research. Any standard method of citation is acceptable. Internet sites are cited using the address (URL) of those sites. All other references are to be cited with the name of author, year, title of paper or book, page, and publisher. Any standard format of citation is acceptable (footnotes and/or bibliography) with proper referencing throughout the text of the paper.

3. Students are responsible for checking the accuracy of materials obtained from Internet sources. Many Internet sources are not peer-reviewed and may lack credibility. Remember that in this day and age, any one can publish anything on the Internet. This does not qualify published materials to be worthy of an academic endeavor such as a term paper.


The final electronic paper is due by NOON on the Saturday that precedes the tenth week of the term. The paper should be a Word document, 10-12 pages of text (12-point, double-spaced, Times-type with one inch margin on all sides). In addition to the text, the paper may also include pictures, graphs, charts, or tables but the total length of the paper including all supporting materials should not exceed 20 pages.

Grading Criteria

Students taking this course will receive Science/Engineering/Technology (SET) credit. Classroom presentations and discussion will promote critical thinking to enable students to evaluate evidence, results, and claims related to the natural sciences or technology and their impact on broader human or societal issues. Classroom activities will also demonstrate logical reasoning through quantitative analysis (e.g., calculations, programming, graphical analysis). Furthermore, there will be illustration of scientific methodology and arguments will be constructed to create appreciation of engineering principles and issues. In their written papers and in their 5 minutes class presentation that will take place in the tenth week of the term, students are expected to highlight and detail principles similar to those listed above. The grade in this term paper will be assigned based on the quality and organization of the paper, relevance of content to the subject under consideration, understanding, clarity of presentation, and demonstration of ability to address questions with comprehension, in addition to the class presentation.

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