But instead of going mad, I returned to work and redoubled my efforts to prove two things: the importance of value engineering and the importance of women in the profession. Reinvigorated by my art, I fought and made dramatic presentations at work, while overlooking the sniping of colleagues. "You're acting just like my wife," someone snipped at me once at a meeting as I insisted on trashing the plans for the foundations of a major structure.

As the wife of pianist Artur Papazian, whose 1985 debut at Carnegie Hall prompted The New York Times to rhapsodize about his "seamless piano technique, virtuosic but never ostentatious," I know the power of persistence, whether in practicing an instrument or in convincing colleagues to consider better approaches to design. Am I ostentatious? I wouldn't describe myself as such. But at meetings where I have been the only woman in a room of 20 to 30 men, I have not shied away from making a scene to avoid being silenced.

OVER-PREPARED. Now, after 20 years in the industry, I have begun making a difference. I'm bragging because I want to inspire young women to persevere in the often-hostile, male-dominated culture of engineering. As a woman, I've learned that I have to be better prepared than anyone else around. Although I have never taken any art lessons, in my professional life I've always over-prepared, especially for presentations of my geotechnical recommendations. Maybe as a result, I'm being listened to more as an expert of sorts. Recently, I even succeeded in introducing a new method from Japan for the installation of retaining walls.

That new method came in handy for widening the often-jammed Long Island Expressway. The New York Dept. of Transportation originally specified a 35-ft-deep excavation, with retaining walls supported by unusually heavy soldier piles weighing more than 735 lb per lineal ft. But just before the beginning of actual construction by my employer, Perini Corp., I introduced a value engineering proposal to use lightweight interlocking steel pipe piles instead. The "Giken" compact piler installs them with minimal noise and vibration (ENR 7/9 p. 15).

I first became interested in value engineering five years ago, when I moved to the construction side after spending 15 years in geotechnical design. Only after that switch did I realize the true intent of clauses in construction contracts that require value engineering. It became apparent to me, a follower of European design and construction practices, that U.S. engineers often spend entire careers developing designs and contract drawings without ever developing an understanding of relevant construction methods. Worse, by misusing computers and computational tools, many engineers often turn in plans with inexcusably exaggerated code-based designs with excessive safety factors. US contractors, meanwhile, often build without any appreciation of engineering principles.

PUSHY. Now I am on a personal mission to create metaphorical "bridges" between male and female professionals in the industry, and between the cultures of engineering and construction. I hope that the days of colleagues whispering questions of my attitude, abilities or proposed designs are at an end. But I am not naive. Indeed, sometimes having a "difficult" reputation pushes me to fight even harder for quality in alternative designs.

On a major light-rail project in northern New Jersey, I called into question the original design for a viaduct supported on very deep, large-diameter drilled shafts. The original design, code-based of course, called for drilling through thick weathered sandstone, followed by sockets into sound rock. It was clear to me that such a simplistic design spelled trouble with a likelihood of construction disputes during a search for deep, "sound" sandstone. A fierce fight with major design firms ensued when I insisted on drilling only into the weathered rock. Its side friction and end-bearing resistance proved more than adequate to support the viaduct.

My next major fight involved the design for a bus depot's deep-caisson foundations within a few feet of New York City's Lexington Avenue subway, which extends through schist, a very hard bedrock. I saw a potential for damage by drilling so close to the subway. Although I was made to feel unwelcome at a crowded preconstruction meeting, I managed to get permission to roll a core of the schist across the table for everyone to see its hardness. I succeeded in making a case to support the depot on shallow spread-footings. I elaborated that the stresses of drilling through the hard rock, so close to the tunnel, would far exceed those of the shallow footings, which would be like those of a butterfly on my head.

As a woman, I think I bring imagination to value engineering, while contributing to the geotechnical engineering profession and still remaining true to my instincts. Too often, male engineers try to paint their female counterparts as "mad." Don't let them make us believe that we've gone mad. Any major change requires a courageous fight. In value engineering, it also saves on time and money, and avoids damages and disputes.

Maral Papazian Bedian, a Perini Corp. design manager in Hawthorne, N.Y. is the construction company's chief geotechnical engineer.
She may be e-mailed at mbedian@perini.com

urious over an incident at work eight years ago, I walked out of my engineering job and marched to an artist's supply store. Without any previous experience or training, I began painting monumental-size oil canvases, including a self-portrait–Gone Mad.