This summer, I have an internship with Silman, a structural engineering firm that specializes in existing and historic structures. Within the firm, I work with a subset of engineers who deal primarily with historic buildings. The office is a supportive place for interns and the internship and has been a wonderful opportunity to learn about working as a preservation engineer. This summer, I have been able to plug into a wide variety of projects, and I have gained exposure to many facets of engineering.

As an intern, I support the office’s structural design projects – through analysis tasks, checking shop drawings from contractors, creating structural models, and supporting site visits. One of my takeaways from this summer has been the importance of an emphasis on understanding how an existing building is working (or sometimes how it is failing). I am learning that it’s helpful to study exactly how much load a structure sees, and how that load travels through a building. For instance, I was able to work on alterations at the Wyoming State Capitol, a grand Renaissance revival building from the 1880s. In support of this project, I helped analyze how the floor structures were performing. This included wood joists, metal arch floors, and concrete slabs – largely antiquated structural systems. I was also tasked with attempting to understand how the building was originally designed by using structural manuals from the 1890s. When the engineer could understand how these systems are performing, they could make smarter decisions about how to remove or replace pieces of the structure, while still protecting historic finishes and maintaining original pieces of the building.

I was also able to work on a few projects involving cathedrals in the city. Silman is involved with many ongoing alterations at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine complex and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I was able to attend coordination meetings and gain insight on how architects and engineers collaborate. Often, there was a lot of discussion about details – how to connect to existing structures, or how to shed water away from connections. Through these projects, I learned how to design stone anchors to support masonry and how to design lintels to make openings in existing walls. I am very appreciated of the opportunity to jump into these small design tasks – to learn how the modern building code can interact with historic buildings.

Overall, what I like most about this internship is that I am learning how to work as an engineer through the lens of preservation. Preservation engineering calls for a specific skillset, including familiarity with historic building methods and antiquated systems. The engineers at Silman know how to study historic buildings, assess their structure, and adequately and sensitively intervene. I am grateful to have an internship that provides exposure to this type of work, not to mention an understanding of a number of beautiful buildings!

Lintel study
Lintel study at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine