Happy Steel Week from Nashville!

This week brings me to Nashville, TN where CloudCalc is exhibiting at the NASCC 2015 (AISC’s annual steel conference).


Three days spent talking steel to the 4500+ engineers, designers, detailers, fabricators, academics, vendors, etc. who have registered to attend sounds like the makings of an engineering overdose.  But where others, less-stalwart, might be tempted to cry “¡No más!”, I actually came to Nashville with the intention of seeking out the engineering heart of the city above and beyond the convention itself.  Or specifically, in honor of Steel Week, my quest was to find Nashville’s most inspiring use of steel.

NASCCJane Stewart awaiting the rush at the CloudCalc booth

One inspiring use of steel was very close at hand.  It turns out that the conference is being held in a spectacular venue, the Music City Center.  This facility has won numerous engineering awards: for example, the American Council of Engineering Companies’ “Grand Iris Award” for Engineering Excellence and ENR’s award for Best Sports/Entertainment Project for the Southeastern US.  Besides its striking appearance (its external profile has the contours of an acoustic guitar), the center had to tackle some tricky structural engineering issues.  In order to maintain an open space for conventions and musical performances, the design called for 240-foot spans between the columns in the exhibit hall.  This was accomplished through the use of twelve 240 foot long catenary trusses, 33 feet high, which work in conjunction with three 270 foot long box trusses, 80 feet high.  Local Nashville Structural Engineer Ross Bryan Associates http://www.rossbryan.com/ did the honors on this job.

Catenary Trusses spanning the Music City Center

But I wanted to get outside of the conference to see how Nashville fits into the engineering world.  To do that I started with some research.  I was very impressed to learn that Nashville takes its place as a leading STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) city very seriously.  In the past few years there has been an active movement among Nashville’s business, technology, and political communities to increase the number of technology workers, both by attracting them from elsewhere and by training them locally.  For example, the state recently awarded the Nashville Technology Council an $850,000 grant to partner with Tennessee community colleges to promote enrollment and graduation rates in technology programs.

The result of these efforts?  Last year Nashville was ranked by personal finance social network WalletHub as the 12th best Metro Area for STEM Professionals, and Fortune published data that indicated that Nashville was the second fastest-growing tech job market — with a further 24 percent increase in worker demand growth projected for 2015.  It’s not surprising that Nashville would put such importance on being a STEM leader.  This area has long been on the cutting edge of engineering and technology, following the tradition of both TVA, the massive rural electrification project, and Oak Ridge National Labs, the DOE’s largest energy research site.


So the area seemed promising.  I scoured the list of top Nashville attractions for engineering-related sites.  First stop, the Parthenon, which might have been more interesting to me had it been built 2500 or so years earlier.  And it might have been more appropriate as a Steel Week destination, had it not been constructed of concrete.  So time to move on.

Next on the list was the Ryman Auditorium – as the home of the Grand Ol’ Opry from 1943 until 1974 as well as hosting plenty of top musicians since, it is worthy of a pilgrimage from any music fan (whether one is an engineer or not).  But the Ryman also is a draw for engineers – acoustic engineers, that is.  It turns out that one reason Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton sounded so good was that the Ryman has the second best acoustics of any facility in the world (here you can listen to the Ryman’s John Dowell talk about those acoustics: http://www.artistshousemusic.org/videos/house+acoustics+of+the+ryman+auditorium).  So this was a great find for an engineer or a music fan, but not so relevant for Steel Week.

The Ryman, where you can hear a guitar pick drop from the back row

I still was looking for the most impressive use of steel in Nashville.  Somebody suggested that I might want to check out LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans, but that is a place I will boycott forever due to the fact that Nashville used that stadium as a $400m bait to steal away Houston’s old football team, the Oilers (most impressive use of steal?).

So I still hadn’t found a good example of steel in Nashville.  So what could I do, but drown my sorrows in a local honky tonk?  Where a local band was playing…singer…guitar…bass…drums…and the one instrument that really makes a country band sound like a country band — that elusive (pedal) steel.  I’m sorry, but sometimes one just has to take off the engineer’s hat, kick back, and enjoy listening to the licks from Nashville’s most inspiring use of steel.

So to help you kick back, in honor of Steel Week I leave you with a clip featuring MY favorite steel player, the late Sneaky Pete Kleinow:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCqxq6xqoXI&index=3&list=RD9sn8z2HIJsA

Happy Steel Week from www.cloudcalc.com – Structural Analysis on the Cloud.

By Tom Van Laan

Copyright © CloudCalc, Inc. 2015

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