Brian Brenner’s semester at Tufts, where he teaches bridge engineering, is coming to an end. That milestone doesn’t mean that he will have very much more free time because he still will be a principal bridge engineer of Tighe & Bond, based in Westfield, Mass. I wondered if school’s end would allow Brenner’s mind a little more time to roam freely across the landscape of design, construction and life. If he wanted to, Brenner could post a blog or two about buildings, for example.
Not a chance, says Brenner. “We refer to buildings as vertical bridges,” he quipped. That declaration was a sign that Brenner, a 59-year-old product of Rockland County, N.Y., and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was unlikely to take a more serious view of the human condition. As the author of three humor books published by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Brenner employs a deadpan silliness to illuminate the odd corners of life and engineering. And he isn’t so hopelessly preoccupied with bridges that he doesn’t sometimes take up travel, technology and popular culture. For example, in a recent post on ENR.com, Brenner describes his use of Google’s street view to take a virtual tour of Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. Up until then, Brenner says he was “profoundly ignorant” of Nuuk and “never really wanted to visit before.”
His emotional attachment to bridges, however, looms over most Brenner posts, viewable under Ideas/Blogs on ENR.com. A wedding on Long Island, for example, takes him to a catering hall adjacent to the Long Beach Bridge. Upon reflection, Brenner asks, “Maybe marriages need regular maintenance every few years to avoid demolition and replacement?”
And only days before posting that blog, Brenner took on the subject of bridge approach slabs. “If you need a transition at the end of the bridge, wouldn’t you also need a transition at the end of the approach slab?” asked Brenner’s colleague. “But then, at the end of the second approach slab, would you not need another approach slab?” That was all it took. Soon enough, Brenner was examining analogies in foundation borings and calculating the moment capacity of the beams, both of which involved philosophical mazes from which there was no easy escape.