FEDERAL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
After a brief period of civil war in 1847, Switzerland emerged as a
modern nation in 1848 with a new constitution and government. One of
the primary goals of the new government was the establishment of a Federal
Institute of Technology in Zurich in 1855. Originally named the Federal
Polytechnic Institute, it was later renamed the Eidgenössische
Technische Hochschule or ETH. The thirty-one original professors
at the Institute included many scholars of international reputation,
such as architect Gotfried Semper (1803–1879), who designed the
original institute building, historian Jacob Burckhardt (1818–1897),
and civil engineer Carl Culmann (1821–1881). Culmann received
an engineering diploma from Karlsruhe in 1841, after which he worked
for the Bavarian state railway until called to Zurich in 1855. He supplemented
first-hand field experience with rigorous study of completed structures
and systematized structural engineering. A two-year study trip to Britain
and the United States yielded a widely read report published in 1851–52.
He also performed systematic structural analyses that led to the publication
of Die Graphische Statik [Graphic Statics],
probably the most influential book of its time on the subject.
The basic idea behind Culmann’s work was to demonstrate structural
behavior through geometric diagrams rather than through algebraic formulas.
Although another school of thought emphasized abstract analysis and
formulas, Culmann’s work would set the tone for civil engineering
in Zurich for the next half-century. To become a tradition, the Culmann
approach required a successor to carry forward teaching in this vein.
Culmann, Robert Maillart, and Othmar
Ammann were fortunate that the professor chosen in 1882 to succeed
him was Wilhelm Ritter (1847–1906).
© 2003 The Princeton
University Art Museum