The art of engineering
Is engineering an art or a science? Most of us would place it firmly in the latter camp: with the careful application of specific rules and factors, it’s a broad discipline based on scientific and mathematic principles.
But at least one Berkeley Engineering alumnus sees it differently. Alireza Lahijanian (B.S.’09, M.S.’10 ME) is the co-founder of Rbhu, a Bay Area engineering company that specializes in large-scale artwork and entertainment structures. There, his work blurs the lines between art and science. “Art sculptures are not cookie-cutter buildings,” Lahijanian said. “They’re designed outside the box and are aesthetically complex. As engineers, we must find ways to make the aesthetic work while applying principles of physics.”
Lahijanian and Selinda Martinez, a former classmate at Diablo Valley College, founded Rbhu in 2014. The two dreamed about “engineering things with purpose, things that provide joy for people and things that change the world,” he said.
Since then, the firm has completed more than 150 sculptures; four in-house engineers are currently working on about 40 projects in various stages of development. The company provides structural and dynamic analysis, 3D modeling and rendering, and structural drawings — mechanical skills applied to the idea that “monumental sculpture can lift the human spirit, ignite our imagination, help us process and express feelings, and bring people together.”
The team has also served as the engineering firm and design consultant for the annual Burning Man event in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, as well as for many public art installations across the U.S. Some of those projects have kept Lahijanian awake at night. He remembers one in particular: an enormous teeter-totter, 80 yards long and four stories high, with two live human beings positioned on each end. But every single project comes with its own unique challenge and perfect solution, he said.
Most recently, Rbhu began providing pro bono services for artists in support of projects that raise awareness for an issue of the artists’ choosing. “It’s an important way for us to give back,” he said. “We believe that public art is a way to inspire, to ignite creativity and have a positive impact on people’s health and well-being.”
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