Because every building’s form is ultimately defined by a structure that is integral and essential to the success of the design, tapping structural engineering expertise at the onset of the design process seems like a wise strategy. But not every architect understands or does this. Collaboration with a structural engineer at the very beginning of a project not only can accomplish higher-quality architecture, but also it achieves better integration with the structure, and enhances the design.
If the correct structural system is selected early on when concepts are still fluid, it forms the right bones for all that follows and inherently reduces costs due to its appropriateness and efficiency. In fact, structure, when considered proactively, often can become the architecture through its overt expression of architectural form, or its articulation of structural details. Exploring a building’s structural design holistically, and embracing all of its elements – including façade and MEP systems – ultimately results in a better building. To that end, we encourage involvement of all design team members, contractors and key subcontractors at the genesis of a project whenever possible.
But, in our experience, many architects and designers still begin projects thinking: “I’d love to fully realize my vision and push the design to its greatest potential, but that would be too complex and expensive.” As a result of assumptions like these, the vision is immediately dialed back and taken down a different path, ultimately compromising the original intent. Only later, sometimes much further along in the design process, do architects bring in their structural engineer and discover that they missed out on numerous opportunities that would have made their project better, more efficient, less costly, or just more aesthetically beautiful overall.
In cases like this, we often find ourselves asking questions like: You seem to have strayed from your project vision and goals; is this design fully expressing what you were originally striving for? Or, are you aware of all of the efficiencies that could have been easily addressed if we’d been engaged from the start? This is when clients realize that although it would be best to explore possibilities in a more innovative way, too much time and effort already has been invested in their design to unwind the process and start again.
We want to hear, on Day One, all the crazy or wild ideas our clients would ideally like to achieve. Most have learned that it’s to their benefit to start early, and to be highly proactive when it comes to structure. They’ve also learned to never say, “This is how we did it last time, so we assumed this project would be similar,” because similar precedents do not always apply in these scenarios. Not all engineers welcome the opportunity to collaborate in this manner, however, as it requires more time and increases their costs. Thus, building a team as passionate about design as the owner and architect are, is critical.