Engineers: we design and build the world we live in.
Viewpoint zakiyya adam crop
We make it easier for people to get to where they need to go. We build homes. We provide clean water. And we’re never satisfied, always looking to make things faster, taller, longer, and more efficient. Well, what about making things better for people’s wellbeing?
Infrastructure impacts wellbeing. Cityscapes, the buildings we occupy, spaces we travel through – they all affect how we feel and our quality of life. As an industry, civil engineering has begun to recognise the importance of workplace well-being and mental health. It is time that we extended this conversation to our work.
We are in a privileged position to be able to work on projects that impact the lives of countless people. They trust us to provide the best possible solutions to their needs. Those needs are not only physical. We need to start to focus more on designing for optimal wellbeing.
During my undergraduate studies, I was taught the theoretical foundations of engineering. However, the most valuable information I took away from my four-year master’s course was covered in one week. “Design and wellbeing and the built environment” was a short but intense optional module. I had no idea what to expect as the very idea of wellbeing considerations in the context of engineering was completely novel to me. It turned out to be the most interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring week of engineering I’ve ever experienced. That module changed how I thought about our work. It put the focus firmly on people.
That course was run in collaboration with the medical school. And maybe that is what the industry needs. We are incredibly good at collaborative work. Perhaps we need to extend this out to professions with which we currently share little dialogue. We would stand a better chance of truly designing for people and society’s needs if we better understood how to design for well being, for happier communities, to reduce mental stressors, and to make people feel safer and more connected.
So, here it is: a call to place wellbeing at the forefront of design (or at least somewhere close to the front). Let’s teach it more widely at university level. Let’s run seminars/workshops for our employees. Let’s talk to the experts. Let’s be more mindful in our day-to-day lives of how our own environments are impacting us. Once you start to think about your wellbeing, you’ll realise it’s highly linked to your surroundings; the train you took this morning was an ingenious bit of engineering that got you to work on time but that journey also impacted your mood. In what way? And how do we design our infrastructure to optimise this – wellbeing – as well as journey time or capacity?
Engineers: we design and build the world we live in. Let’s make that a world that fulfils all our needs, not just the physical.
● Zakiyya Adam is a representative of the ICE Graduate and Students Network (GSNet) and is former ICE Council graduate member.