photo credits: J. Wayman Williams  







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