The ancient Roman architect Vitruvius conceived of three primary virtues for structures: beauty, utility, and firmitas, a term that can be translated as permanence. Naturally, buildings can’t be crafted to last through time immemorial. What is permanence if even stone monuments wear away into sand?
Moreover, as Washington State University architecture professor Ayad Rahmani asks in this issue’s essay, maybe the longevity of structures should be questioned. Rahmani writes about Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic view of buildings and their inevitable decay, and that we should perhaps consider their “measured return to the earth.”
We don’t really expect our buildings to last forever, but we rely on them and other structures, like bridges and roads, to remain stable enough for our safety. As we’ve seen from recent bridge closings and collapses, there’s a pressing need in the United States to evaluate and repair bridges as they age and crack under pressures of increasing traffic and changes in the climate.
WSU researchers in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture are leading a national consortium to expand the durability and lifespan of transportation infrastructure, with ideas ranging from self-healing concrete to seismic retrofits with carbon fiber.
The natural landscape certainly isn’t permanent, either. Fires alter forests and fields in significant ways, not all of them bad—if fires don’t burn out of control. Indigenous people across the Northwest and beyond used fire for centuries in a cycle of renewal. This issue tells how Native Americans in Washington state are bringing back those traditions to prevent massive wildfires.
The use of preventive fire is just one piece of knowledge we want to keep. But in the digital era, how do we preserve knowledge stored on obsolete technology? It’s a puzzle that WSU librarians and professors are pondering.
Sometimes knowledge is lost to time, but reminders stay intact. In Ethiopia, mysterious stelae—carved stones—stick out of the ground, but little is known of their history. Thanks to a partnership with Ethiopian universities, WSU graduate students and faculty are starting to unravel the story, and work to preserve the stelae for the future.
Of course, nothing is truly permanent, and we must do the best we can with our time. One fine example is Tim Pavish, who retired from the WSU Alumni Association after 18 successful years. He will be missed but his legacy of achievement, expanding the WSUAA in many ways, will remain.