Photo: Sabina Askholm Larsen/DTU

Joint design of tower blocks gives engineering student taste of industry life

Friday 22 Jan 16


Jan Karlshøj
Head of section, Associate Professor
DTU Civil Engineering
+45 45 25 17 11
How do you design a tower block without missing crucial details within the different subject areas involved in the process? That was the task to solve for 19 groups of graduate students during the past six months. The work has provided them with valuable experience that can be put to use in their future industry life.

“This is probably the coolest communication at DTU!”

The words come from Alfred Heller, Associate Professor at DTU Civil Engineering, and are referring to 19 illustrative posters that decorate the wall of a classroom at the DTU campus in Lyngby on a Thursday afternoon.

Together with three colleagues, Alfred Heller spent the day listening to presentations from 19 groups of students who have given their vision of how an apartment building in the Aarhus Harbour can be designed.

The presentations are part of the course Advanced Building Design on a graduate level. The students have been asked to design a building with a variety of specifications including price, size and amount of daylight.

Details have an impact on the entire project

Each student has a specialist role in the group: One is for example an architect, another project manager, while a third is responsible for fire safety in the building. The students are typically on the last year of the MSc in Civil Engineering or Architectural Engineering and this course is challenging them to act as a specialist in an area outside of their comfort zone.

Engineering students typically work with verifying products or calculations already made by others. During this course, they are challenged to design their own product from scratch from a set of instructions. It is challenging to work in this way, say the students.

"If you change one detail it can have consequences for the rest of the project, and you may need to make at new set of calculations. Therefore it is important to be able to argue your case, listen to each other and find the right balance," is the experience from one of the groups after they just presented their take on an apartment building for office use.

Frustrations are converted to valuable experience

Jan Karlshøj, Associate Professor and Head of Building Design at DTU Civil Engineering, is responsible for the course. The starting point for the course was that the students did not have to learn anything new as such, says Jan Karlshøj. The students are expected to already master the academic elements of the course. It quickly turned out that there are important lessons in the course, which goes beyond the subject knowledge of the individual student.

"Usually, the students are asked to solve an isolated task. This course is different because various professions must work together in order to create a unified product from scratch. That provides a lot of frustration for the students, while the project is in progress. At the same time, we hear from former students that the course has been very valuable, because it provides them with a good taste of how cooperation takes place in business life, "says Jan Karlshøj.

The students agree to that statement.

“Working in this way has made our approach more rational and realistic and less dreamy. It is clear to us that we are part of a bigger system, and that is very valuable,” is the message from the group of students.