Professor John Bull gives his perspective on the changing structural engineering industry and how the ICE Manual of Structural Design: Buildings can assist with design challenges. 

ICE Manual of Structural Design: Buildings 
  • Updated: 19 December 2019
  • Author:John Bull
New trends
Structural design may often be thought of as following codes, standards, using computer software and at one time meaning the design and constructing the building at their lowest costs.  Today, this perception is not acceptable as we, as structural designers, are looking for best practice and knowledge that covers all aspects of the building design which includes such areas as the structural design process, fundamental principles, concept design and detailed design.  So much information is available on the internet, social media, structural reports etc to inform our clients, that we face competing demands of the requirements regarding sustainability, the widening age range and requirements of our growing population, globalisation of information and the availability of facilities that the population wish to use. We are also facing new challenges, such as sustainability, fire engineering, legislation and the use of materials such as glass, risk and computer assisted design, to achieve high standards of structural design build quality.   

Clients require high class structures and often demand unconventional designs.  The best and most appropriate designs need to be offered to the client.  As structural designers, we need a definitive reference to help us, as practical civil and structural engineers, and be guided to design buildings more closely to the population’s requirements.  This often means a change in our mindset.  What we may have designed a decade ago may not now be appropriate.  For example, we need not only detailed design procedures and codified rules, but a broader understanding of structural form and the use of conceptual design.

We as designers need to assist the client to provide defined and comprehensive requirements and needs for the building.  Clarity is needed in the required design life and what future changes may be required, as is space requirements and usage.  Here we must assist the client understand the decisions they may make. Getting the decision right at the beginning reduces costly changes and confusion. The building must be designed and executed so that it will, during its intended life, sustain all actions and influences likely to occur during execution and use with appropriate reliability, in an economic way and remain fit for the purpose. 

ICE Manual of Structural Design: Buildings is divided into three sections: fundamentals of structural design, concept design and then detailed design. 

Fundamentals of structural design
The fundamentals of structural design section starts by examining the origins of engineering as a professional activity and then considers the development of the role and tasks of the structural design engineer in contemporary society, the mindset required by structural engineers and their future place in society.  It then explores the relationships that contribute to successful design outcomes and the development of a new type of structural design engineer and gives suggestions for the engineer’s approach to the future.  Risk management considers how to maximise success and minimise loss.  We are concerned with durability, safety, serviceability and for the client, this means a reliable, cost-effective service in support of the building’s function, involving performance requirements and hazards so that the client  appreciates how risks affect the structure’s use.   For example, considering the low carbon design of buildings and how sustainability can be measured and then addressing the basic principles of sustainability for buildings throughout the design and construction processes. 

We consider the through-life perspective of the design process by scrutinising the performance of existing structures to discern drivers associated with life-cycle cost, value and sustainability issues. This means considering the through-life performance plan and developing a co-ordinated approach to construction, structural design, service life design and associated through-life care processes. This work means controlling the design process to reduce errors in structural design by adopting a questioning approach to inputs and outputs and the validation of the proposed design models. 

Concept design
In concept design the success of multi-storey buildings is judged by the client and the user, as the design develops through stages, by communication shared across the whole team, so that they are fully understood. Interrelationship of the different uses within the building must be understood, including structural and non-structural issues.  For generic building types, the areas of design to be considered to deliver an appropriate brief for a client are indicated.  Building failure, such as progressive collapse and serviceability issues, are discussed though pre-construction investigations, building foundations, external environmental issues, material suitability, structural stability and studied using the experience of the designer and the checking engineer. 

Different modes of load type application are explained, which include dead, imposed, earthquake, fire, fluid, ground, wind, self-straining, silo, soil, and wind.  Some areas are gone into in some detail including appropriate fire design and structural robustness guidance on the design against disproportionate collapse is given. Soil–structure interaction and methods for predicting the behaviour of foundations are discussed emphasising the importance of effective communication between geotechnical and structural engineers.  Advice on suitable materials to realise good design so that material use is economic and to achieve a high degree of later recycling. Building stability and instability are considered, which include first and second-order structural analysis including different structural arrangements.  For example, an overview of movement and tolerance issues are discussed. 

Detailed design
For detailed design an overview of the design of concrete framed buildings including the sizing of floors and the columns are determined. The approach to steel design from the viewpoint of a consulting designer to achieve a successful outcome is given. The design of structural timber components and fasteners, describing the basic properties of wood and wood-based products, is described.  The basic concepts of masonry construction and its components, covering load-bearing and non-load-bearing construction techniques are included. Rules are provided for the development of initial sizing, also giving information on the design of masonry under seismic conditions. Information on the structural design of glass elements in buildings based on the limit state design philosophy is given. 

All in all
The Manual of Structural Design: Buildings represents an amalgamation of good, simple rules and principles and is a repository of best practice guidance in the core areas of civil and structural engineering.  It provides a comprehensive reference on structural design.


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