How Trusses Changed My Life

How Trusses Changed My Life

I’ll admit that the title of this entry sounds like I had a spiritual experience with trusses, as if a gospel song would be the appropriate background music as you read this piece, but bear with me as I flesh it out, and feel free to put on whatever music you like.


Wonder at Work

I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands. I can still remember being given a set of screwdrivers when I was six or seven years old, or maybe I just found them, either way, I had a set of screwdrivers complete with that special glint in the eye! All I needed was something to do with them. Well, you know the saying that when you only have a hammer every problem is a nail? Well, there weren’t that many objects around the house that needed their screws tightened, so I first went around the house and loosened every screw I could find. I then proceeded to go throughout the house again, this time tightening all the screws. Thankfully I finished the job before nightfall because I had also loosened the deadbolts.

Do you have a memory like that? Or maybe you remember workers coming into your house to fix the plumbing or they built an addition? What did you think? Did you wonder at the abilities of these tradesmen who could take raw materials and shape them into something useful and maybe even beautiful? Did you watch as the house next door was built where before there had been an empty lot? I don’t know about you but as a kid I marveled at these events, but I also wanted more.

Wonder Inspires Inquiry

Inquiry is where we ask questions of ourselves, of others, and of the world around us. Children intuitively sense that they are small in a world full of marvelous and complex things; whether in nature or things created by men. Children have a hunger to understand, to comprehend, to master with mind and body all the things around them. Entire days are filled with their questions, “Why did you do that”? Or, “How does that work”?

Inquiry Leads to Imitation

As they grow older, and as more “things” make sense, children come to a point when they say, “No, please don’t help me. Let me do it on my own.” As parents we step back bemused and let them fumble with the buttons on their shirt realizing that this is a process that will be repeated all through their lives.

As mastery of basic functions occur, children progress to more complex things until they graduate into adulthood. One negative side-effect is that as more time is spent mastering an idea or a practice, that wonder decreases. Yet, the saying that of someone who said, “The more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know” should keep us humble. Wonder is what caused inquiry and imitation and should remain as we grow older.

Imitation Leads to Innovation

Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, spoke in a TED talk regarding imitation and innovation. He argued that the genius of innovation cannot occur without the seeming endless imitation of existing methods and practices. Not everyone is going to be an innovator in the sense that they change the way an entire industry does things, but the environment where innovation can occur comes out of the qualitative imitation by the everyday practitioner.

Innovation typically occurs in order to improve upon previous innovations, whether those were found to be defective, outdated, or maybe because ideas, technology, or tools are available now where previously they didn’t exist. Innovation proceeds from that wonder that leads to inquiry, from masterful imitation, from using the resources at hand, and through imagination that can conceive of things before they actually exist.

So What about Trusses?

Trusses—in their modern form—were born out of early attempts at pre-building a roof system onsite using wood gussets, nails, and sometimes glue. In the early 1950’s the development of metal plates allowed for design and prefabrication to occur in a controlled environment. Think about that. While everyone else was largely building roofs one stick at a time, these guys sat back and said, “OK, what we’re doing now works, it’s been done for years but… can we do it better?” Consider the trial and error involved, the engineering without computers, and the time invested without any visible proof that they were on to something, with no promise of reward.

Look at us now. From the innovation that occurred in the 50’s, more advanced testing and standardization of trusses, and the advent of computer software that can handle sophisticated layouts and truss engineering (for examples of this see the latest in GDI’s series on Crazy and Complicated Truss Designs) we see the continual march of imitation and innovation in our own industry.

What It Means to Me?

I am still awed by both nature and the ingenuity of men. I love buildings especially and how they are built to stand against the constant, demanding pull of gravity and other forces. I enjoy delving into the inner parts of these buildings to see how they work and marvel at the craftsmanship employed. I know the challenge of buildings houses from the ground up, working high on a ridge with a sense of achievement, and now getting started learning to design trusses represents another opportunity to be filled with wonder; to inquire, imitate, and innovate.

What about you? How have trusses changed your life?

For more history of trusses, check out this post by GDI Design Manager Bill Hoover.

For other thoughts on innovation by a past GDI designer, Darren Fish, go here.

Tim Hoke – Design Trainee

Gould Design, Inc.