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A Better Design Process

The design process doesn’t have to be fraught with difficulty there is a better way, writes Mason Reed.

By: Mason Reed

1 November 2019

The building development process, from a structural engineering perspective, starts with understanding the client’s drivers, budget, and what they want out of their structure, from a performance and aesthetic perspective. Unfortunately, it is all too common for design professionals and consultants to not take the time to understand their client’s needs, prior to commencing a design. Often by the time the client sees what has been designed, it is too late to change without significant additional time and cost ramifications.

This article provides an overview of the minimum steps we believe any design consult should be taking to ensure that they meet their client’s needs, and provides commentary regarding a design process that will ensure the best outcome for the project.

Step 1

Typically, the first step in any building development is to have the site accurately surveyed by a registered land surveyor, in order to identify site boundaries, ground levels, and service locations, etc., for building concept design purposes.

It is prudent that an architect/ architectural designer to be engaged, so that a building/ structure design, which meets the client’s brief, can be prepared. The architect will ensure that the concept design complies with the relevant nation, local, and site-specific rules and regulations (such as recession planes, boundary setbacks)

‘Often by the time the client sees what has been designed, it is too late to change without significant additional time and cost’

Step 2

Once an initial concept design is prepared, we recommend that structural and geotechnical engineers are engaged to provide input. Early involvement from an experienced professional geotechnical engineer will provide valuable input as to any potential geotechnical hazards on the site, as well as determine the most appropriate foundation system for the proposed structure. By having the structural and geotechnical engineers working closely together, the building and its foundations can be optimised as the performance requirements of both engineering aspects are identified early.

Based on the architect’s preliminary plans, a suitably experienced structural engineer should be able to establish the structural load paths and potential mechanisms of the building(s) to support both vertical (gravity) and lateral (bracing) loads. When these have been established, preliminary member sizes and structural systems can be confirmed, and drawn up in the form of marked up architectural plans and hand sketches to minimize cost outlay and design programme disruptions.

Step 3

When the geotechnical and a preliminary/ concept structural design have been completed, then a discussion should be held between the various design professionals, the contractor (if one is engaged at this time), and the client. This will provide further scope for optimisation, and confirm that the design will actually deliver what the client wants, from a performance and aesthetic perspective versus potential commercial/cost implications.

At this time, if any changes are to be made, then it is relatively simple exercise for structural engineers and architect to modify their design/plans. Whereas, if significant changes were to be made to more advanced “developed” designs, then the amount of re-work, and associated cost and time to make changes, would likely be more significant.

Step 4

When the preliminary design has been reviewed, and any required changes or tweaks to the design scheme have been confirmed, then the structural engineer (and architect) can progress their designs through the “100% completion stage” and can prepare a full building consent application package, for less complex designs.

The above summarize steps provide a short road map for a cost-effective design process, which will ensure that the client’s design brief and needs are met, whilst eliminating/mitigating any re-work, aso as to provide cost and programme efficiencies.

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