Professional architect designer structural engineer team colleagues discussing building design projects

Gabriel Silva

3 Ways Structural Engineers and Architects Collaborate to Deliver Optimal Structural Design

Discover how architects and structural engineers use collaboration and technology like ClearCalcs to deliver successful building projects. Explore 3 key strategies.

When you look at a building, you might admire its shape, the way it blends into the environment, or how it seems to defy gravity.

What you see is the result of a strong partnership and teamwork between architects and structural engineers. Their collaboration ensures that buildings are not only beautiful but also safe and functional.

However, architects and structural engineers often find themselves navigating a delicate balance between aesthetics and structural integrity. When communication breaks down, or workflows become disjointed, projects can face costly delays, design clashes, and even safety concerns.

This article explores how these professionals collaborate in residential and commercial building projects. It delves into three field-tested collaborative approaches used by ClearCalcs power users, revealing how architects and structural engineers can work together seamlessly to deliver optimal structural designs.

Table of Contents

How do architects and structural engineers work together?

Step 1: Initial design

After the client engages an architect, the architect starts with an architectural design concept to translate the client’s vision. They sketch out the building’s look and layout. Ideally, at this stage, the structural engineer would be involved in providing input on whether the design is feasible.

For example, the architect might want to include large windows to let in natural light and create large open spaces without walls in a residential project. The structural engineer would then use the conceptual design to assess how this affects the building’s strength and suggest ways to reinforce the structure if necessary.

Step 2: Detailed planning

Once the basic design is approved, the structural engineer starts detailed calculations based on the architectural drawings. They use tools like ClearCalcs to:

  • Create structural reports: Generate easy-to-understand reports for review and approval. These reports detail all the calculations and assumptions that went into the design. They are essential for getting building permits and for guiding construction.
  • Link loads to prevent errors: ClearCalcs’ load linking feature ensures that any changes in design automatically update the load calculations. This avoids mistakes and saves time.
  • Reference standards to ensure compliance with building codes: Structural engineers must ensure that their designs meet all relevant building codes and standards. ClearCalcs makes this easy by providing built-in references to these codes. Every line of calculation shows the appropriate standards reference, clause, and description (reasoning) that was used.

Step 3: Construction documents

The architect and structural engineer finalize their plans. They create detailed drawings and documents needed for construction. This includes structural calculations, material specifications, and safety guidelines. For example, in a light commercial project like a small office building, the architect might create a detailed layout of the office spaces, while the structural engineer provides drawings of the beams, columns, walls and footings that will support the building.

Step 4: Building phase

During construction, both professionals work hand in hand to ensure everything is built according to plan. They collaborate to solve any issues that arise, ensuring the building remains both safe and true to the original design. For instance, if the builders encounter unexpected soil conditions, the structural engineer might need to adjust the foundation design, and the architect might need to modify the floor plan accordingly.

3 field-tested approaches to enhance collaboration between structural engineers and architects

Early and consistent communication: Building a foundation of shared understanding

One key challenge in the structural engineer and architect partnership is balancing aesthetics with practicality. Architects want their buildings to look great, while structural engineers focus on safety and functionality. Sometimes, these goals can conflict. For example, an architect might want a building with large, open spaces, but the structural engineer might need to include additional load-bearing walls or columns to stabilize the structure. Finding a solution that satisfies both professionals can be difficult but is essential for a successful project.

To minimize these issues, regular meetings and clear communication are essential.

Architectural firms like Brittell Architecture believes in the collaborative nature of design and construction projects. By bringing together architects, structural engineers, and other key stakeholders at the initial stages of a project, potential design conflicts can be identified and resolved early on.

For non-complex projects that do not require a dedicated structural engineer, Brittell Architecture leverages ClearCalcs’ easy-to-use interface for beam, column, and footing designs to ensure fast turnaround times for their clients. This efficient approach keeps projects moving smoothly from the outset while ensuring they build a functional, efficient, pleasing, and durable structure for their customers.

architect-engineer-collaboration-tips-calculations.png Figure 1: ClearCalcs calculator library offers quick and easy-to-use beams, columns and footings calculators for structural engineers and architects to analyze project designs.

Similarly, structural engineers at SMARTBuild Engineering use ClearCalcs to instantly calculate the performance of beams and columns under various loads when they receive architectural plans or preliminary drawings from their clients. This rapid assessment allows them to determine the feasibility of structural elements and make informed decisions about material selection and design approaches.

“This [ClearCalcs] works fantastic because to do this manually will take too long. And we want to have very, very quick results to see whether it works or doesn’t work - especially when we're doing preliminary sizing or costing to give the suppliers to say, can this work or not? We just want a yes or no answer.”, said Sameer Ramgoolam, founder and director fo SMARTBuild Engineering.

Using technology to streamline workflows and enhance collaboration

Architects and structural engineers often operate in silos, leading to miscommunication, design clashes, and costly revisions down the line. For example, if an architect changes the design without informing the structural engineer, it could lead to structural issues or safety concerns.

To bridge this, Brittell Architecture finds ClearCalcs to be a cost-effective way to enhance its collaboration and decision-making even when the team is working on large projects involving structural engineers doing most of the structural design work.

Jim Fanjoy, Principal Architect explained:

“The other day, for this school project we’re building a big gymnasium for, we had a contractor who wanted to look at an alternate system for the roof frame, and he wanted a rough estimate of the beam size. So, I figured it out in 15 minutes in ClearCalcs and sent it to him with the understanding that he could get the pricing based on the numbers.”

“Eventually, it will go through the process before the contractor orders the material. And before we notify the building official, the structural engineer will look at it and make his calculation too.”

For architects like Jim, transparent and clear references to formulas, design codes, and clauses in ClearCalcs calculations help deepen his understanding of the codes and how they affect design.

A screenshot showing how ClearCalcs calculations come with references to formulas and design codes and clauses Figure 2: C;earCalcs calculations come with clear references to formulas, design codes, and clauses to ensure transparency of design.

“This puts me in an interesting spot because I’m always learning more about structural engineering in the process of working with other structural engineers and doing my work.”

“I also like the clarity of how the calculations are organized and presented. They help me better understand the factors that affect the design in our projects and how to design more efficient structural solutions as a result.”

“It benefits me then because I become better at my job as an architect, and it also increases the reliability of my calculations.”

Iterative reviews and feedback: refining designs for optimal outcomes

Traditional design review processes can be time-consuming and inefficient, involving multiple rounds of back-and-forth communication. By leveraging ClearCalcs as a one-stop project management tool for structural design projects, architects and structural engineers can facilitate real-time feedback and collaboration on design iterations.

This iterative approach facilitates faster decision-making and ensures everyone is aligned on any modifications.

Time-saving features such as Change Material enable architects and structural engineers to efficiently determine the most suitable materials for a design or switch from one material to another during the calculation process.

Furthermore, the Member Selector tool incorporates the most commonly used structural members along with a summary of critical checks for the given design, allowing users to identify the optimal section for the design quickly.

A screenshot of ClearCalcs member selector tool Figure 3: The member selector tool makes it really easy for users to choose the most optimum member based on grade, properties, and manufacturers preferences.

“For example, as part of this project, we’re modifying an additional locker room next to the building. When we took a wall out, we found the structure was nothing like what we thought it was on the existing drawing. So we had to go back and retroactively redesign a portion of an old building so that the new building could hook onto it correctly.

The contractor called me, and he was freaking out. So I pull up ClearCalcs and say, ‘you know, you could use an 11-inch joist, and it will work structurally.’ So we ended up having a couple of options, which still depends on what the structural engineers want to do, but with ClearCalcs, I can say that I’m confident that we can fit the structure into the space we have available.”

Similarly, engineering firms like Ward Engineering or Dynamic Analysis rely heavily on the load-linking feature to streamline the iterative nature of the design process. By dynamically linking load reactions between beams, columns, and footings in a project, any upstream changes made during a review automatically update downstream calculations.

“So anytime there’s a change, you got to go back, start over and redo the first calculation, get those loads, pull up the next calculation, read over from one screen what those load reactions were, and enter them individually. It was just a massive time suck to make one small change.”

“Just the simple feature of being able to link load is a really big time-saver,”

This eliminates the need for time-consuming manual adjustments and ensures that all stakeholders are working with the most up-to-date information, even as the design evolves.

Conclusion

Effective collaboration between architects and structural engineers is essential for creating building structures that are safe, functional, and beautiful.

By working together and using modern tools like ClearCalcs, architects and structural engineers can streamline the design process, reduce errors, and ensure that every project meets the highest standards. The result is safer, more efficient, and aesthetically pleasing structures that stand the test of time.

Ready to experience the power of seamless collaboration in structural design? Explore ClearCalcs' features and start your free trial today!

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