Simanaitis Says

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A NEW BOOK, Science and the City: The Mechanics Behind Metropolis is a must-read. A book review titled “Street Smart,” by Sybil Derrible, is in the latest Science, October 21, 2016, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Science and the City: The Mechanics Behind the Metropolis, by Laurie Winkless, Bloomsbury Sigma, 2016.

Here are several tidbits gleaned from the Science review.

Laurie Winkless is a physicist by training, and she writes of everything from the realm of atoms to the macro mechanics of the book’s subtitle. For instance, when describing Burj Khalifa (2722 ft.), currently the world’s tallest building, she explains how a study of wind loads and locale changed the skyscraper’s design. Initially, its designed steplike recessions were arranged in counter-clockwise fashion. Modeling and wind-tunnel testing revealed greater stability with the steps winding clockwise.


Concrete for the 160-story Burj Khalifa in Dubai was pumped as a liquid from ground level to facilitate efficiency of the building’s construction. Image from Boon Edam.

In describing the tradeoffs of traditional and renewable power, Winkless identifies the major challenge: electrical storage. She writes about battery basics as well as the latest technologies.

One of her historical tidbits describes the “War of Currents,” electricity of alternating current versus direct current. At the end of the 19th century, Thomas Edison and General Electric promoted DC power generation and distribution. Nicola Tesla and George Westinghouse preferred AC. Writing with a lightness not always evident in scientific prose, Winkless says, “Long ago, I lost my heart to a charismatic Serbian engineer.”


Above, Thomas Alva Edison, 1847–1931, American inventor and businessman. Below, Nicola Tesla, 1856–1943, Serbian-born American inventor, engineer and futurist.


Today, our electricity is predominately AC. On the other hand, computers, LEDs, solar cells and electric vehicles run on DC power.

Winkless also discusses how sensors and Big Data are having profound effect on cities. “At first glance,” she says, “today’s cities haven’t changed all that much in the last 50 years. If we dig a bit deeper, though, we’ll see that the city’s DNA has been subtly but irreversibly altered, and it’s mainly down to our love of data.” High-frequency trading of stocks and GPS routing of travelers are two examples.

On a not unrelated note, at the moment I’m reading Dave Eggers‘ The Circle. It’s a wonderful, yet terrifying novel of Big Data and complete transparency gone whacko. What excellent counterpoint to the overall optimism of Science and the City.


The Circle, by Dave Eggers, Vintage, 2014.

No wonder there’s always more than one book on my bedstand. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

One comment on “SCIENCE AND THE CITY

  1. sabresoftware
    November 3, 2016

    Speaking of wind tunnel testing of buildings, the building tunnel lab at my alma mater, the University of Western Ontario (known as the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory or BLWTL for short) in London, Ontario, has been responsible for testing of many of the tallest buildings and longest bridges around the world, particularly in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The Burj Khalifa was tested by a competing lab/company RWDI In nearby Guelph, Ontario, although it seems that the BLWTL has been involved in a project for long term performance monitoring of the building.

    Buildings that were tested at the BLWTL, that might be familiar include the CN Tower in Toronto, the Willis Tower in Chicago (formerly the Sears Tower), the late World Trade Centre Towers in New York and the Hong Kong and Shanghi Bank Building in Hong Kong.

    Boundary Layer wind tunnels are different from those typically used for developing cars (and other transportation devices) as the replicate the boundary layer effects of wind running over the surface of the earth, including upstream and downstream roughness effects caused by terrain and built infrastructure (i.e. other buildings and especially sky scrapers nearby).

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