Design dominates structural engineering – there is nothing in a structure not defined in the design. Many talents are needed in the exercise of structural design; its execution involves many people, much plant and large sums of money; heavy responsibilities are undertaken.

It is governed by the general desire to have what is needed at minimum cost; it is an art concerned with the adequate.

Factors in structural design

The structure must fulfill its intended function. This function may be complex; concerned not only with the support of load, but with water-tightness, thermal and sound insulation, fire resistance and chemical resistance. The load itself may be complex – not a single design load, but a spectrum of loads and their combinations occurring with variable frequencies. Moreover, as soon as a structure is built, the influence of weather, aging, fatigue, use, accident and other causes of deterioration commence to act on it. The designer seeks to ensure the continued serviceability of the structure during its intended design life.

The Structural Design must be safe. Most structures are used by the public. Hence the consequences of collapse are grave and this possibility must be made remote. The designer’s estimate of strength is partly analytical and partly a matter of judgement – the accident prone structure may be difficult to define but can be recognised by an experienced structural design consultant.

The structure should be economic. The client having decided in discussion with the structural design consultants on the standard of strength, durability and other qualities which are to be required, the design will proceed with the intention of looking for the best value of the client’s money. Design decisions are economic decisions, right down to the choice of smallest detail.

However, it should be appreciated that there is a correlation between the designer’s fee and the time which can be spent refining the design to reduce the cost of construction.

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