Technical University in Copenhagen

Contemporary History (Nutidshistorie)

Niels Mejlhede Jensen, Bøgeløvsvej 4, 2830 Virum, Denmark. e-mail (web master)

Link (back) to the index page.
Link (back) to the main page with the folk dance of the week, (which may be just behind here, so you instead only need to close this window).

Stability of a dubious house - Stability of the Technical University? - Summary

To supplement the old glimpses of history related to folk dances, with the aristocrats in power and the 2' class people kept in order, we need a piece from today. This here is just one little merry example of contemporary history, here from the daily life at the Technical University. Take it as a small joke:
The young engineers are blamed for designing buildings with endangered stability, as it is said from the very high post in society in this profession. But the same high post exhibits examples of unsurpassed lack of basic knowledge of stability, giving the solution that the 100 kg beam illustrated below will completely lose its load on the scale just by placing it on an elastic support (like wearing soft shoes for folk dancing).


Together with the description of each of the 20 folk dances I have brought a little story, mostly from old time. The many happy folk dances and its music is a cultural product of the folk, the big majority of the people living below the upper class with the establishment's culture. The folk culture we have here was strong enough to survive despite being ridiculed and looked down upon by the upper class and despite being to some extent hindered by law. Fiddlers' Dance is playing and dancing these folk dances at the Technical University in Copenhagen every week, and the many people coming here, either they are from the "inside" or "outside", are the most straightforward, kind, and friendly people. And ordinary. But the big Technical University is much else. Here you at many places may find a dominant group of staff that for all in the world will not be associated with the word ordinary and ordinary people, a self-appointed upper class that, often in lack of professional ability, look down upon the ordinary class of students and common outside engineers:
Extract from an article in the weekly paper for engineers, Ingeniøren no. 8 page 8, Feb. 25, 1994 by the associate professor and head of the council to evaluate licensed structural engineers:
Stability of buildings is at hazard
The young know too little

...the young engineers have too little knowledge... because of too little education, or because they study superficial.

It is easy and a common aristocratic attitude to blame the "big unknown mass" of young engineers for the failures in engineering. The work of the inexperienced should of course be supervised by an experienced engineer. (But of course, if the superior engineer is just in power for the sake of holding power, without these professional engineering qualities, then blame the young).
Here below we shall see what unbelievable lack of knowledge this author himself and the Technical University and the mentioned council may reflect on this subject:
Figures of a house for the written examination given by the above author at the Technical University in June 1992:
A house that may fall to pieces, as we shall see, if it were to be designed by the Technical University of Copenhagen, or by this council that decides if an experienced structural engineer has qualifications high enough to make design approved by the authorities.
The house covers an area of 7 x 9 metres.
The total horizontal load is here given as m in the centre of the flat roof, and there are only the two shown wall sections S1 and S2 to take this shown load down to the foundation. So any clever structural engineer can in a minute see, that this means that S1 and S2 are subjected to the same equal load = m/2, independent of whether one wall is more or less elastic than the other wall.

The Technical University + the council get a total different solution, get an absurd result. (And this is in no way the achievements of modern science).

If you know a civil engineer in structural mechanics or building structures, then try to ask him or her of the simple problem of stability of this shown house against the horizontal load from e.g. wind blowing towards the end of the house, where this house, besides columns to carry the vertical load, has only the shown wall sections to support the stiff plate roof against horizontal load. First you let the 3 wall sections have the same stiffness. Then you let the wall S1 be more elastic. If the right answer does not come within a few minutes, then choose another engineer for your house (or build it without an engineer).
(The "Zero Energy House" is partly designed by the Technical University).
A simple relevant example:
The problem with the uniform horizontal load from the roof delivered to the two walls is equivalent to placing this beam of 100 kg on two scales and measure the vertical load on the scales. 
Without a spring they will both show 50 kg. So I say, and so the Technical University says.
If you put an elastic spring (of no weight) below the beam (or below the scale), (and wait an hour), then the two scales will still both show the same 50 kg. So I say. (And so you say, I hope).
But the Technical University says, that the scale with the spring will now get a much less load (we consider only static load). With some calculations they say, that the load here will be negative with the value of -28 kg, and at the scale in the other end without the spring will be 128 kg, as you can see in their solution below.
When people hear that the Technical University says so and so, they usually think that there is some higher wisdom behind. There is absolutely no sense behind saying that this load on the scale with the spring will be pulling the scale upwards with 28 kg.
Question 1 in the written examination June 1992 for students of applied civil engineering in building structures at the Technical University in Copenhagen, extract:
In short: extract relevant to here: relating to the figure 2 above, decide the horizontal load which the roof gives the three walls, when:
  • the three walls are identical
  • the wall S1 is shortened to the half length
(If you read Danish then try, besides the subject in question here, to read the formulation of the two last Danish lines again and compare that to what the solution below apparently wants you to answer to; this text is highly approved).
Official solution by the Technical University and approved by the officially appointed external quality controller and examiner:
here I show the solution to the question with the wall S1 shortened to the half length:
In short: by shortening the wall S1 it will be more elastic as a horizontal support for the roof.
(Did you read the last line in Danish here? Is the text formulation understandable enough for you for an examination?)
A clever engineer needs about 1 line here to explain the right result to normal bright students.
What you see in the solution above is mostly unclear and confusing and wrong. This is further continued:
Next page of the official solution, with the calculations:
In short: the calculations show that the short elastic wall S1 gets the horizontal load of a negative value:
  • S1 = - m · 0.28
  • S2 = m · 1.28
The right solution is of course: S1 = m · 0.50 and S2 = m · 0.50, as shown with the 100 kg beam above. A negative value is absurd for any bright engineer or for any practical man and woman.
I have here not included the calculation for the wind turning 90 degrees. But here the official solution is just as mistaken.

This official solution to the examination is placed on the notice board to the students right after the examination.
Some years earlier there would usually be 2 or 3 students out of about 50 that were bright enough to see the mistake. But here no one protested, (so maybe the young engineers are as bad as described in the article above?) But then it should be said too, that the explanation in the solution text is so twisted and unclear, that most engineers give up. The students that gave the correct answer got a low mark in this question. The many students that because of poor teaching in the subject gave a wrong answer don't need to care.

Some months later this examination example was given to the following team of students as exercise, and by special circumstances it happened to be me that should be the teacher teaching the example and afterwards giving the students the written solution. I got very surprised seeing the solution with this awkward mistake, but I thought it at the time best to just peacefully encapsulate it before students or other teachers got to know anything, so I right away wrote the following letter in November 1992 to the author of this fatal examination:

The letter is one page, and here I give only the extract explaining that the horizontal loads on the two walls S1 and S2 are equal, independent of their elasticity:

My letter is else somewhat submissive (which I regret now). I did then not imagine, that he might still not understand that he had made a wrong solution. To my astonishment he gave the written solution to the students - and nothing more happened. The students were apparently not bright enough to see the equivalent to the 100 kg beam example above.
But then I soon started to discover that several more of his examinations were with severe mistakes, though more complicated, with this twisted way of thinking. And this can be much more severe, because then the bright students use much of their scarce time on trying to understand a twisted and wrong problem.

What could I do with this misery? I then (with some excuse) asked the Technical University (twice) for admission to the files, the archives with the written replies from the students which the Technical University according to rules have to file for 5 years before discarding or giving to the students. But exactly this part of the replies was missing, for all the years.
My son had a few years earlier been a student here, a very bright student. He graduated with the highest average for years (12,0 i 13 skalaen), and this despite of one conspicuous bad mark - in building structures! He had complained to me earlier about this examination. But with my new knowledge now from the above 100 kg beam problem and its Technical University solution I could suddenly see how wrong and twisted also his examination test had been. It so happened that at this time it got to be 5 years since he had the examination, so we demanded from the Technical University to get his written reply. But exactly this part was missing in the file.

The history after this is in short:
At the June 1993 examination some students were at risk of being "squeezed" between their education from above and the test in structural mechanics at the main section of the institute for applied civil engineering, so I felt obliged to start to reveal the above 100 kg beam failure problem to other professors. But to my astonishment: this simple one minute problem was a very complicated matter for the staff of teachers having taught for 25 years without design experience. So examinations continued as usual. I then left the Technical University to study music theory for one year. But occasions came up for this problem to proceed, after a journalist at Ingeniøren gave the Technical University with its staff of professors in structural mechanics 3 months to comment on this one problem of the 100 kg beam. I was sagged and two teams of lawyers were asked to sue me and stop Ingeniøren. The Technical University apparently felt it as like an offence against the royal. But the lawyers would not sue me, and delivered a so-called responsum to Ingeniøren. I give you two extracts here of the Technical University answer:
Response from the vice headmaster of the Technical University in Copenhagen in Ingeniøren/Job no. 8 page 2 February 25, 1994 to my description of the above shown 100 kg beam:
It is not clear to me, what Niels Mejlhede Jensen wants to obtain with his description of a solution to a question in an examination of 1992 in the Department of Applied Civil Engineering. I feel though, that it is not an attempt to start a professional discussion...
My intention could be to get a better professional education at the Technical University to obtain better civil engineers and thereby eventually avoid the failures in design written in the above first article on this page.
Further from the Technical University response:
There is not always only one solution to the realistic problems we treat in the hundreds of examinations...
Yes, that is right. For the above 100 kg (static) beam there is the obvious right solution of 50 kg load on the scale, and there is the obvious wrong Technical University solution of -28 kg.

Mistakes in examinations do of course occasionally happen in one the many examinations. But it may often be discovered though when you see the replies from the students. And is the mistake due to a normal humble and regretful teacher (as the teachers are most) then a reasonable way out should be found.

The above example shows far too bad quality control at the Technical University (and maybe at a lot of like places). Nothing has improved since then, ("because of lack of payment from the taxpayers", as the usual saying goes from the aristocracy, using slightly different words). It will not always be enough to also involve other teachers, with their narrow individual specialities. And to pay still some outside person on a high post in a council or in the private, can be of uncertain value. I propose that the examination including the official solution is submitted to the internet WWW, for anybody (young engineer) to look through.

The above mentioned council to evaluate experienced engineers' ability in structural design of buildings has become so powerful that the local authorities can decide to accept only structural design projects from their licensed engineers. (Only royal appointed town musicians were allowed to play before 1830). My nearest town hall (Holte) does not use that rule, but others do.

I have chosen to bring only short relevant translations in the extracts above, and chosen to bring only short extracts. I could bring the complete material, but in readable form this takes up a lot of my MB, and this gives a big download time for you. If you are in great want of more I may bring it, and I may translate more.

The Zero Energy House


A world famous one family house at the Technical University, with low energy and stored solar energy, so no energy supply is needed for heating and hot water. Designed by the Technical University, aimed at being implemented by the common house owners to save heating costs.
After much information for two years to the public with this zero energy as a mere fact, the house showed, after the most hot summer for many years, to have no heat left for all winter.

No heat left for the winter

With the oil crisis we in 1974 feared for a future with no fuel for heating. But then the Technical University came forward with their big salvation programme: the Zero Energy House. A one family house build to demonstrate that (in a normal year) a comfortable home needed no energy for heating. This result was provided by solar energy stored for the winter in a big water tank buried below the house, and by heat recovery from waste water and ventilation, and by building a well insulated house with low heat loss. All the newspapers wrote repeatedly over a long time about this wonder, and we the home owners were all eager to get instructions in how to build or rebuild our homes likewise. Here the Technical University should finally show that their best research could also be for the direct practical use to the common people. One year late of schedule, the Zero Energy House was ready to start to use no heating energy in the summer 1976, a record hot summer, so the heat storage water tank soon had boiling hot water, for the coming winter heating. But there never got to be any winter heating from here, because all the stored solar heat was used during the autumn before even the start of the winter months. Despite this very conclusive result nothing of it was told to the public, but the research engineers continued to travel the world to conferences to tell how the Zero Energy House was designed. - And the measuring results? "They were not yet worked out".

Loss of heat 3 times as big as designed, gain of heat 3 times less than designed

In 1980 I came to this institute as a blue-eyed idealist to work ½ time with solar energy and low energy housing. 60 persons were employed here by public funds promising the payers a soon inextinguishable return to everybody from alternative energy and low energy housing, 60 persons not themselves having this solar energy in their homes. I got involved in solar house projects where I soon felt it was scientifically significant to reflect the experience from the famous Zero Energy House and I eventually urged to see the results. In 1983 I could ascertain that the heat loss had been 3 times as high as calculated. If then the gain of energy also was higher than calculated this would help, but the gain of energy was only 1/3 of the calculated, resulting in a cold house from one dull autumn day. The design seems on several points to reflect missing common engineering sense, and the combining of untested elements in a ready house boosted with public propaganda is not scientifically according to my learning.  If it was not for an electric heater in the subterranean water tank (heating the surrounding soil!), the house would be cold as the old-time unheated dance room of the better farm house, where only energetic folk dancing gave the heating.

I have more to tell another day from the Technical University, (which is owned by the taxpayers, and easily could be a better place for everybody).