Free-Spirited Bridge Engineer Has No Regrets For Past Mistakes
Ben Konklin, maverick bridge engineer and designer of some three bridges, said in an interview last week that he spends no time regretting or revisiting the mistakes made in the past on bridges and other projects that failed to live up to expectations or live-load requirements.
The renegade designer says that he does not allow social norms or ASTM standards to interfere with his ability to design bridges and skyscrapers that reflect his unconventional persona.
"Maybe there are things that I would have done differently, like if I had to go back and decide whether or not to use the correct nut size to secure the bolts on that one bridge over the Missouri River, maybe I'd say 'yes'," said the untethered designer. "Still, taking chances like that, which your average engineer wouldn't think twice about, are totally necessary to me, because if I didn't get to express myself through my work I think I'd go insane."
Despite the 11 drivers and passengers who fell to their deaths upon the bridge's failure, Konklin holds true to his design philosophy, which is that "nothing in life is certain". Blatantly disregarding typically accepted norms for design and showing utter contempt for government reviewers and officials, who he claims are constantly attempting to squander his right to free-expression, the rebellious Konklin remains at the forefront of realist structural design.
"Stock markets may collapse, a nuclear bomb could detonate, or you could get struck by lightning," stated the engineer, "so why should anyone assume with absolute certainty that the bridge you're on, designed by me, is necessarily going to support your weight, or the lateral forces of the semi truck that just miraculously made it across? Sometimes you've got to do what’s right for you, and if someone else gets burned in the process, that's just the collateral damage of a genius getting his wings."
Citing the inanity of live-loads, lateral forces and recalculation of dead-load due when adding roadway lanes, Konklin refuses to fritter away his valuable time on things on which other "mediocre" and "creatively-stunted" engineers focus. The art behind bridges, says Konklin, is not whether or not it works, but whether or not drivers crossing the bridge are made aware that they are alive. "I'm especially fond of incorporating the use of gravity in my medium," he says.
"Pre-tensioned concrete is so pedantic," said the artful designer. "Anyone can design a bridge that's going to last 100 years, but it takes someone like me with a more long-sighted point of view to give each pedestrian or driver who crosses my bridge a moment of self-realization and reflection upon their own mortality. Everyone knows that this life is fleeting, but a moment of true realization is hard to come by, and that's exactly what I try to do with every bridge I under-design for aerodynamic-stability."
Though he has had his share of critics and lawsuits over the years, many are beginning to recognize him as a truly independent presence in the typically banal world of bridge-design.
"His message of using unapologetic and controversial methods in civil engineering design is a bold one," said architecture critic Blair Kamin. "Where most designers and reviewers would opt for a more standard truss-system, Mr. Konklin literally holds his bridges together with toothpicks, which is an extraordinary expression of the modern mentality with its rising gas-prices, fear of terrorist attacks, and other disasters. Mr. Konklin has successfully incorporated the fears and anxieties of the 21st century into his life's work, and for that he should be commended."
Despite a series of disastrous failure and collapses, in which many pedestrians have been injured and even killed, Konklin continues to make bold plans for the future. Citing Bob Dylan and Ken Kesey as larger influences in his career than Brooklyn and Golden Gate Bridge engineers John A. Roebling and Joseph B. Strauss, Konklin remains obstinate to his methodology, which is to eschew typically accepted methodologies.
"You can't keep revisiting your past and worrying about things you should have done, or decisions you wish you had made differently," said Konklin. "I mean, it's too bad that all those people died when my bridge over the Red River Gorge catastrophically collapsed, but it's just not healthy to dwell on mistakes of the past, because what's done is done. Life is short, and if I wasted all the time that other engineers spend worrying about the difference between tensile and compressive strength of concrete, my whole life would have passed me by, and I'd be left with nothing."
Konklin says that despite having found his calling to design bridges of highly questionable structural integrity, he plans on making a move into skyscrapers and sports-arenas as his next idiom of expression.