Physics, Architects, and The Book


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.


It is common to distinguish between physics-type problems and engineering-type problems. Physics-type problems are those that can be solved by using physics formulas. Engineering-type problems rely not only on closed physics formulas, but also on practical approximations, simplifications, ad hock tables, and the likes. Most physics textbooks limit their scope to physics-type problems. However, many physics related problems that architects encounter are of the engineering-type. Most architecture programs teach those kinds of problems in specialized courses, distinct from introductory physics. This creates an unnecessary dichotomy between physics and its applications. One of the tenets of “Physics for Architects” is to bridge that gap and to demonstrate to architecture students the relevance of physics. Many engineering-type problems are included in the text. The transition from axiomatic, physics-type approach to practical, engineering-type approach in analyzing situations and solving problems is illustrated throughout the text.


It should be noted, though, that “Physics for Architects” is a physics textbook, and it is not intended to be a replacement for the professional architecture books. Engineering-type discussions and problems are brought here as an introductory material, for illustrative purposes. Whenever a real situation has to be addressed, it is recommended that the reader seek professional advice and consult the professional literature. Although “Physics for Architects” has been designed for architecture students, “physics is physics”. The physics principles, concepts, formulas and ideas brought here are the same as those presented in other general purpose, introductory physics textbooks. The main difference is in the examples used to introduce and to explain the physics. Those examples are related to buildings and structures, and to their use by humans. Readers from other disciplines too may find the book interesting and effective in their study of physics.


The second edition is an expansion of the first edition. The fundamental concepts of torques and center of gravity are explained now in greater detail. A new section about the catenary and stone arches is another example of the application of the conditions of static equilibrium. Resonance of simple structures in earthquakes is presented, relying mostly on algebra with quotes from calculus. A section about the acoustics of Strathmore Music Center, a modern concert hall, provides a lucid demonstration how basic physics principles are integrated in real life application. Other small improvements are peppered throughout the book, including new problems, many with direct relevance to architecture, and solutions of selected problems at the end of the book.

THE eBOOK and its WebAssign MODULE

The eBook is a pdf version of the printed second edition, with minor modifications.

WebAssign is a world leading company, specializing in developing online educational materials and providing online educational services. WebAssign’s Physics-for-Architects Module was created in order to enhance the learning experience of the students and the teachers who are using Physics-for-Architects.

A main component of the Module is a set of 634 “end-of-chapter” online problems, consisting of selected problems from the printed second edition of the book and problems composed by WebAssign. Students solve their assigned problems interactively with the Module, which provides them with feedback and links to related eBook sections. The Module evaluates and grades the student’s work and progress, and prepares real time reports to the students and to the instructors. The Module also provides an online communication platform for the students and the instructors.

Instructors can assemble assignments from the Module’s problems set, from WebAssign’s other problems sets, and from problems that they themselves compose. Students and instructors have free access to WebAssign’s extensive support materials including tutorials and solved physics and math examples, even from topics that are not included in the eBook.

The eBook and its WebAssign Module are only available as one package that is distributed and serviced by WebAssign, according to the agreement between WebAssign and the users.