Jim Yurchenco on Visualization and Calculation

Source: Interview with Jim Yurchenco, 25 May 2000.

Visualization

Pang: When you were working on this, was this work that took place only on paper, or were you working with physical models as well?

Yurchenco: We had built some conceptual models, using similar materials or whatever we could get our hands on, that demonstrated that the physical principles we were going to use actually worked. But the actual layout was something I created in my mind, built it on paper, then handed it to Bud. He made the model, and he proved-- the model proved-- that it worked.

Pang: So a lot of the details were worked out on paper.

Yurchenco: There all worked out on paper. In the end, everything in that design basically was worked out on paper, without any modeling. This was before CAD was a commonly-used tool, so it was done strictly as a paper design. A lot of calculations of snaps and things like that, but mostly it was done in the brain, and then out the pencil.

Calculation

Pang: And at that time, how much of your time would have spent doing the calculation?

Yurchenco: Very little. Probably less than five percent of my spent was spent calculating, the rest was moving shapes around, trying things out-- creating a shape in your brain, laying it out on paper in sketch form, and seeing if it will work. You can also see ways to improve it: if you move this wall here you can do this, and if you move this wall then this part comes out better over here.

It kind of grows up as a whole. You work on one section and paste it in, you work on another section and paste it in, then you put the two together and you see how they interrelate; then you change them, and they interrelate better. You gradually build this whole thing: it isn't like you build this one corner and it's done, and you build this second corner and it's done. There's a constant shuffling back and forth throughout the thing, and it grows as a whole until the whole thing is done.

Aesthetics

There was also, I have to admit, I had a sort of aesthetic interest in mind. I was really concerned with what the thing looked like. So I spent time making shapes that were pleasing to me, and-- I hope-- integrated well with each other and didn't look completely random. I did have some interest in the way the final product looked, even though most people would never see it. I think that desire probably came from my background in fine arts and sculpture, that I'd studied at Stanford and previously. So my interest carried over there.

Pang: What would define a pleasing structure?

Yurchenco: Absolutely personal. It was like, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me, I liked the way the shapes worked together. But it wasn't accidental: there was a lot of deliberateness in there, I think is what I'm trying to get at.

Pang: Were there any cases when you would choose a design that was more pleasing, but wouldn't work quite as well as something uglier?

Yurchenco: No, I don't think so. Part of the definition of an aesthetically pleasing design-- for an engineer-- is how well does it work? So there was an effort to make both those things happen. I couldn't in fairness to my client compromise the design for aesthetic reasons; but you have a lot of choice in the way you do things. So I didn't feel like I had to compromise.

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Document created on 28 November 2000;