Learning London: Tower Bridge Museum


Defying gravity at Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge is well worth a visit. A long visit at that!

Last weekend’s weather was dreary in London and we almost passed on the activity–a result of not knowing what we’d see inside and an entry fee of nearly 10 pounds sterling each. Missing this experience would have been quite a mistake!

Our visit to Tower Bridge and the museum that spans the overhead walkways and plunges into the engine rooms far below, lasted far longer than we’d expected.

Aongus and I explored had the surrounding area a bit first, after walking to Tower Bridge from Shoreditch. We’d found Dead Man’s Hole but had failed, for the time being, to locate the entrance to the “subway” that, once upon a time, facilitated walking by foot under the Thames from the north to the south bank.

The bridge lured us away from that pursuit.

We’d read about its gear system and, well frankly, at least one of us is a gear-head. Although we had expected see a steam engine, we had not expected to walk along the top of the bridge–the part that stay stationary when the drawbridge below is opened. But, happily, both sides of that walkway are part of the museum and open for exploring.

We spent a couple of hours studying the signs about bridge design and construction, this bridge’s history, and famous bridges from around the world (many of which I’ve visited). The mirror above the glass floor (of the walkway soaring high above the river and street) proved to be a delight. It’s a great source of entertainment and photo fun.

The museum also provides a short historic film, an animation of this bridge’s construction, and many alternative bridge designs that didn’t make the cut. There are informative plaques and drawings of the design that was ultimately constructed. There are also plaques and taped interviews with folks who built and operated the bridge.

The tour ended in the engine room on the south bank, where we learned about the giant steam engine that once powered lifts and lowerings of this formidable drawbridge.

We had hoped to visit the bascule chamber and witness the gigantic gears ourselves, even though we knew the drawbridge would not be opening that day. Unfortunately, the chamber isn’t open to the general public, so I’ll have to investigate how to get in with a group some day. It seems you can book in for a group to visit, but I’ll probably look for a group of engineers to join.

The photo gallery shows the surrounding area and parts of the museum itself.

Life as a Roving Academic

Shannon teaching at HU Point

Flashback: Teaching architecture students about sun angles at Hampton University, circa 2007.

I keep shifting roles in higher education so I can learn new skills. I spent 15 years teaching in the USA (advancing my way up to Professor of Architecture in 2014) before coming to Ireland as an education researcher and now Lecturer.

Transitioning from teaching to researching was more difficult than I had anticipated, partly because the work is more sedentary, but mostly because I missed interacting with students every day. And while I do enjoy engineering, I also miss discussing architecture and urban design on a daily basis. Fortunately though, I also enjoy interviewing engineering students.

As part of my Marie Curie Individual Fellowship to Dublin Institute of Technology (2014-2016), I conducted 60-90 minute interviews with 47 women in Poland, Portugal, and Ireland. The interviews I conducted as a researcher allow me to connect with students in new ways.


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Flashback to Portugal, where my colleagues and I have interviewed 11 women studying engineering.

Since the end of that initial Marie Curie fellowship, I’ve continued this research project alongside new responsibilities. I’ve recently conducted follow-up interviews with 11 of the 47 women in my study, for instance.

After that Marie Curie fellowship ended, I also found work as a Lecturer on the teaching staff in DIT’s School of Multidisciplinary Technologies and found my way back into the classroom. Today, I get to work with wonderful teaching colleagues, and to teach undergraduate as well as Masters-level students. I’ve included a photo gallery at the end of this blog, showing a typical week of teaching.

So these days, I divide my time between teaching in-class 16 hours per week, learning new content for the classes I teach, advising thesis students, serving as a year tutor in our MSc program in BIM technologies, and doing research. (I’ve taken a break from grant-writing this semester and have enjoyed the respite.)


Planning for future studies in London.

I enjoy exciting new adventures, though, and so I’m preparing to transition back into full-time research for a while, so I can develop new skills by working for two years at University College of London. UCL’s website provides more details  via a press release about the fellowship).

I’ll look for opportunities to teach informally while I’m at UCL, as well, and I’ll look forward to my return to DIT’s classroom in two year’s time to apply what I’ve learned through observation and research.

DIT has granted me a Career Break so that at the end of the fellowship I’ll be able to come back to my current lecturing post. I’m excited about this because I feel I’ve found my feet and my voice teaching here. Aongus (my partner) says it’s clear I selected the right profession since my passion for teaching and for students comes through in the stories I tell at the end of the day.

Now, in the month before I leave for London, I’m trying my best to track down the 10 students from my DIT cohort who I haven’t yet met for follow-up interviews and move to this research project ahead.



Ready to Jump off a Bridge?

My Friday afternoons at Dublin Institute of Technology are filled with civil and structural engineering projects. Today, we performance-tested several types of bridges, all designed and built by first year students. Here’s my testing gear, provided by one of my lovely colleagues, Una Beagon:

I believe that hands-on design projects are chock-full of learning opportunities for students, and I’m thrilled to be part of delivering project modules at DIT.

It was the first time for me to personally conduct the testing of the full-size bridge, spanning six meters across the pond in the courtyard of our building. I’ve attached a video of the test of the full-sized bridges and another of testing the model bridges: