Physics, Architects, and The Book



by Physics for architects


Students of most undergraduate architecture programs in the United States are required to take an introductory physics course. There are three good reasons for that requirement. First, architects have to understand the fundamentals of physics as they apply to processes taking place in buildings and in structures. Second, as part of general education, physics broadens our understanding of the physical world around us. Third, since physics is an exact science that relies on mathematics, solving physics problems enhances the analytical and scientific thinking skills of the student. “Physics for Architects” was written specifically for architecture students, aiming to satisfy those three basic requirements.


The specific details of an introductory physics course may vary from one architecture program to another. Different programs may have different overall concentrations, which may affect the relative weight of their physics component. Within any given architecture program, physics topics may be distributed between introductory physics and other professional courses. Also, different programs may put different emphasis on the mathematical aspects of physics, sometimes referred to as the “difficulty level of the physics course”. What is common to all architecture programs is that the total time allotted to introductory physics is between one and two semesters. “Physics for Architects” has been designed so that it could be used in a wide variety of undergraduate architecture programs, according to their specific needs.


Time is of the essence when compiling any curriculum and a textbook to support it. Class time as well as the time available for students’ homework is limited. On the other hand, physics is practically unlimited. Therefore, the topics that should be included in the physics curriculum and the depth of each topic have to be selected very judiciously. Topics have to be prioritized, and eventually some topics will have to be dropped out altogether. In “Physics-for-Architects”, the fundamental principles of physics and topics that have direct bearing on architecture receive the highest priority. Other topics are secondary. For example, Newton’s Laws are fundamental, and they are discussed in detail both theoretically and in numerous applications. On the other hand, some topics of modern physics had to be considered secondary, and they are interwoven at a qualitative level within other chapters. Some general concepts, such as series and parallel connections, apply to several topics. Since architects encounter them mainly in situations of heat flow, they are introduced here in that context. Most physics textbooks introduce those concepts in relation to electrical circuits of resistors and capacitors. The latter has no relevance to architects, and is not presented here.


The math pre-requisites to all the topics in the book are high-school-level algebra and trigonometry. An intensive review, only of the mathematical concepts and techniques that are needed for the course, is provided as an introductory chapter. Detailed solved examples are embedded in the text, and problems of various levels of mathematical difficulty are provided at the end of each chapter. That should allow teachers to tailor the math level of each topic to the specific needs of their program and their students. Teachers may opt to teach some topics at the highest level of mathematics, while other topics could be addressed with lesser mathematical rigor, or even only qualitatively.


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