John Lienhard presents guest Frank Tavares
Today, writer and communications professor, Frandk Tavares, looks at forgotten
foundations. The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make our civilization
run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
Several months ago I was with a class of seniors
at a local industrial park in New Haven, Connecticut. They were part of
my business communication simulation class -- taking management roles in
a fictitious manufacturing company. We visited the site of their factory,
a real building in a real industrial complex with a complicated century
and a half history. One of the student challenges is deciding how to
enlarge the building -- to determine their options in light of other
The park director had given us site maps and was talking us through changes
that'd taken place throughout the area since it was first home to the
Winchester Repeating Arms Company
in the mid-19th century.
She told us how building here was a challenge. The site drawings were
incomplete. And those they had weren't accurate. Not so much for what
could be seen above the ground, but for what was hidden beneath. She
told us that simple construction during the previous decade had often
made them unwilling archeologists. They'd found hidden tunnels connecting
the buildings -- even an entire boiler room that'd been buried sometime
during the previous century. Just the week before our visit, contractors
drilling a soil sample for a parking garage, had struck a water main that
wasn't on the maps. The resulting geyser reminded them how ignorant
they were about all that lay beneath.
Several weeks later, I did an eight day tour of historic sites in Israel.
As I continue to process that information overload, I keep coming back to
the archeology of a place; how structures and stories can be lost then
found then lost again. I stood within thousand year old stone walls that'd
been built by the Crusaders and which had only recently been excavated
from below a 20th century parking lot. When I examined the massive
two-thousand-year-old building blocks of the Temple Mount foundation in
old Jerusalem it was from within excavated tunnels -- cut through 20 centuries
and as many layers of history.
Over and over I was struck by how civilizations literally bury one another
-- sometimes with intentional aggression, sometimes for mere convenience.
Either way, it struck me how easily we lose what was once common knowledge
and experience. How easily we lose buildings, structures, and remnants of
a way of life that once had the illusion of permanent relevance. So many
examples where builders become de facto archaeologists -- where they (and we)
are surprised by the appearance of forgotten foundations.
Whether it's a 2000-year old King Herod wall, a century old industrial park,
or just a badly documented contemporary building project, the permanence of
the foundations we lay is often fantasy. Our foundations are so easily
forgotten. They become, at best, no more than interesting puzzles for builders
of some distant future.
I'm Frank Tavares, at Southern Connecticut State University,
where we too are interested in the way inventive minds
Frank Tavares is a Professor of Communication at Southern Connecticut
State University in New Haven.
See details here.
Tavares is also writer, a consultant in public broadcasting and media
issues, and the familiar voice of National Public Radio's funding
credits heard at the end of network news and information programs.
For more on the subsurface otherworld, everywhere below us, see additional
Engines episodes: e.g., 228, 664,
849, 850, 855,
1811, and 2154.
Roman ruins excavated in Israel at Caesarea. (Photo by F. Tavares)
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2008 by John H.