Structural Engineer vs Architect – Design Meeting

A structural engineer is a part of the design team for all my residential work in the studio. In this video you’ll join me for the kick-off meeting with my structural engineer as we begin developing the structural design for the Outpost project. You’ll see how we choose a foundation strategy, work through framing + detail ideas, and understand how lateral loads are transferred and how they affect the materials we choose to build with. The professional tug-of-war between engineer and architect isn’t adversarial, rather it’s collaborative and makes for a better, more efficient project.

The most interesting part of our dialogue begins around minute eighteen where I ask Albert to comment on one of the most common objections I hear from contractors in the field: “This structure is way over-engineered.” His answer illuminates how a structural engineer can complement the architectural design process in ways you may not have anticipated. Not only do engineers help us to efficiently size structural members and optimize the design, but their practical building knowledge and field experience can prove invaluable.

Because an engineer’s work is smaller in scope, (their fee is typically about 10% of an architectural fee), they must secure 10X the number of commissions to make a comparable income. This naturally exposes them to many more projects (in theory 10X), ideas, and failures than an architect would typically see. And, it’s those failures that are the most instructive. This symbiotic relationship between architect and engineer has benefitted my practice and my clients in ways that are difficult to calculate but that surely far exceed the engineering fees invested.

Structural engineering is more than sizing beams, designing connections and specifying concrete mixes, it’s an allied discipline which helps to make our jobs as architects easier and to deliver a home that meets (and often exceeds) our client’s expectations.

Although this footage is but a small sampling of our conversation, you can appreciate the give and take that a typical design collaboration entails. As professionals, we rely on the expertise of many consultants to realize our architectural goals.

This is a long video, here’s a few timestamps to guide you:

0:30 ** General Site + Foundation Considerations
4:05 ** Architectural Goals
5:02 ** Roof Design + Framing
6:36 ** Eave Detail
8:55 ** Possible vs. Practical
10:00 ** Designing for Lateral Loads
13:24 **Transferring the loads: bracing (wood vs. steel)
18:12 ** “This feels over-engineered” – The most common complaint I hear from contractors in the field (DON’T MISS THIS SECTION)
22:09 ** Value of engineers from an Architect’s perspective
23:43 ** 10X Projects, 10X Failures, 10X Knowledge (a convincing case for collaborating with engineers)
25:10 ** Engineer’s steel manual vs. Architect’s steel manual


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