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25 ways engineers can add value

Design

Constructive collaboration between architects and engineers is often cited as the single most valuable commodity in bringing any building from the sketch table to the site and on to completion.

When pressed, architects and engineers will always resort to very diplomatic—and seemingly very rehearsed—reasons how they could not have achieved what they did without the other. Architects and engineers will usually laud the other’s unique ability to provide solutions where none existed before.

Fair enough. They work together; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; there’s no ‘I’ in TEAM and so forth and so on.

If we can move away from the campfire and kumbaya for a moment and get down to brass tacks, let’s deconstruct the relationship.

While ARCHITECT would never try to drive a wedge between what most people in the industry consider an essential relationship, architects and engineers bring separate skills to the table, and we’re here to examine those skills. In this feature on architects versus engineers, ARCHITECT outlines 25 ways engineers can add value to the building process.

In no particular order, the top 25 ways engineers can add value to the building process are…

1. BUILD HIGH
The fact is, on high-rise projects, developers often seek the advice of engineers before they consult architects. The industry is changing with regard to high-rise structures.

Clients want signature supertalls that are streamlined in terms of materials, efficient in terms of constructability and comfortable on the highest floors. Wind engineers use a battery of tests to directly address all of these concerns and make
sure VIP owners aren’t becoming very ill in their very high, very expensive flats.

2. GO GREEN
Speaking from a purely design perspective, using orientation, shading, narrow walkways and natural light, architects can design a building to achieve an efficiency rating of around LEED Silver. After that, making a building function at any higher a
level will require engineered solutions.

3. INTERPRET A MAZE OF CODES
Building codes in the region are as complex and changeable as the sands of the desert. When local authorities are unfamiliar with large-scale projects, they will often interpret the existing codes in the simplest way possible. A quality structural engineer can bring together local authorities and consultants and find ways to ensure safety and control cost.

4. EDUCATE CONTRACTORS
Many contractors in the region are upand-comers that are far too inexperienced to be bidding for the projects they’re after. Contractors new to the region are often overwhelmed by the size and scale of the projects and, in an effort to meet tight
deadlines, fail to deliver quality. Structural engineers are often consulted when a contractor finds itself out of its depth.

5. MAKE ‘EM STAND UP
Structural engineers analyse and design structures to support or resist loads. Applying physical laws and using empirical knowledge of how different materials perform under different circumstances is the keystone to ensuring a building—whether it’s G+3 or G+300—remains upright.

6. TAP RENEWABLE RESOURCES
Unlike parts of Asia and Scandinavia, some parts of India do not enjoy a great deal of geothermal activity. Solar energy production is reduced by dust and humidity.  The region’s wind is very weak until great heights are achieved and there is little use of waves/water to generate power.

With the exception of architects designing supertall masts for wind, any improvement in these limitations will come largely from engineered solutions.

7. CREATE A LUXURIOUS SPACE
Hotels are a good case in point. Facilities within a hotel need to be fully operational to create the sense of luxury and hospitality guests expect. Mechanical engineers can make sure all facilities run smoothly and simultaneously, which is crucial, considering the level of competition for guests in cash-strapped cities.

8. ENSURE STAND SAFETY
Stadium engineers can evaluate the structures by way of sensitivity and parametric studies for structural strength and maximum load assumptions while assessing the properties of the foundation rock.

All of this ensures that spectator stands perform safely, as well as they can, as often as they can. With tens of thousands of lives at stake on any given match day, the potential cost of spectator stands malfunctioning is incalculable.

9. ENSURE FLOOR PLATE EFF ICIENCY
In mixed-use buildings, there is often a mixture of public and private space. All the spaces have separate functional and aesthetic requirements and all need to fit into a finite floor plan. In many high-profile projects, it is the engineer that is tasked with maximising the floor space without compromising space or luxury.

10. EVALUATE & CONTROL COST
By means of a simple process of ‘review – analysis – alternative solution’, a skilled value engineer might be able to shave around 10% from the overall cost of a project.  However, given the way in which this field has been manipulated, beware of ‘value engineers’ that promise to shave 30%+. Higher ‘savings’ often come with lower-quality products from less-established markets, which ultimately reduces the overall value of the building.

11. MANAGE RARE ENERGY SURPLUSES
Some of the highest profile buildings are beginning to generate surpluses of power via turbines and, possibly one day, PV panels. Unless energy can be put back into the respective municipal grids, those buildings are functioning very efficiently to produce what is, effectively, a waste.

12. FACILITATE PEDESTRIAN MOVEMENT
Whether it’s a shopping mall, university, convention centre or commercial building, users need to be able to move quickly and comfortably through the building. Including high-speed or dual-car lift systems, smart escalators/walkways, eco-friendly electronic doors, sloped/railed walkways or green HVAC systems, engineers are more and more responsible for delivering functionality in today’s buildings.

13. CHAMPION POLICY CHANGE
fro m top down WSP is working directly with the Dubai government to define and implement its policy of ‘mandatory progression’, which is a legislative framework that requires all new buildings in Dubai to include a certain level of eco-friendliness. Likewise, the UPC is relying on more engineers than architects to implement its Urban Framework plans for Abu Dhabi.

14. EDUCATE ARCHITECTS
In order to get the region’s iconic structures to bend, twist and cantilever, engineers need to study the properties and long-term performance of expensive or irregular materials. Always seeking bigger spans, fewer columns or smaller
structural components, architects need to understand the physical limitations of their designs.

15. ENSURE FIRE SAFETY & SECUROTY
Whether they’re huddled together in an airport, chanting animatedly in spectator stands or working diligently, people in large spaces need to be protected by the structure itself.

HVAC systems need to handle protective ventilation measures. Entries and exits need to be able to handle high traffic and emergency evacuation. Corridors, restrooms and tunnels/hallways need to be well-lit and void of hidden corners. AV and security systems need to be monitored constantly, managed in a separate space and reinforced structurally.

16. DISTRIBUTE SOUND EVENLY
While controlling noise is crucial in various venues, equal sound distribution is a component of only a handful of building types. Concert halls, theatres and opera houses require equal sound quality in every seat; acoustic engineers can help
achieve this while also maximising visibility of the performance area.

17. SELECT SITES
Engineers need to consider a site’s proximity to airports, highways and major utilities. In the case of airport engineering or large-scale urban planning, air traffic is a consideration that cannot be ignored.

Meanwhile, environmental concerns including mineral retention/depletion, groundwater contamination and air pollution are massive considerations given the function of the proposed structure.

18. EDUCATE DEVELOPERS
All too often, when new developers are faced with a building that is outside their budget, they start slashing cost by reducing the materials used to reinforce the building. One of the challenges for engineers is to get developers to see past price to the value and longevity of the structure.

19. MANAGE GOVT ASSETS
As the industry moves toward government initiatives and infrastructure projects, effective asset management is crucial. Durability and rehabilitation are integral components and engineers can help limit the latter by focusing on the former.

20. CONFIGURE AIRFIELDS
Runways and taxiways constitute the largest portions of an airport’s land mass. Every day of the week, they receive several hundred aircraft and protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of passengers. Length requirements of these passages change according to aircraft, ambient temperature, altitude of aircraft and humidity. Airport engineers can ensure smooth operation of and functionality of airfields.

20. CREATE ACCESSIBILITY
While a building boom continues in many parts of the region, civil engineers ensure that those projects are accessible to the public. Traffic continues to clog urban centres and roadways change in name and direction on a daily basis. Missed deadlines and non-delivery are just two examples of how congestion affects construction projects. Meanwhile, civil engineers are begging to be brought into the process much sooner.

22. PROTECT AGAINST CORROSION
The Middle East’s environment is particularly aggressive when it comes to the structural elements of a building. Chloride is the main cause of rust; corrosion via rusting is the main cause of dilapidation of buildings. Structural and chemical engineers work together to ensure concrete binds as tightly as it can and that rebar resists swelling as much as possible.

23. STOP NOISE
Acoustic engineers assess and design noise solutions for myriad applications including leisure, commercial, residential, transport, education and infrastructure. Every project must be approached with the specific noise challenges in mind and consider the maximisation of function within a given context as the end goal.

24. MAXIMISE SIGNAGE & SIGHTLINES
Within a performance theatre or stadium, all eyes are usually fixed on a specific point at a specific time. Stadium engineers can ensure clear, unobstructed sightlines and subtle but informative signage—a must if the operator is looking to maximise footfall and thus, profitability.

25. PREDICT THE FUTURE
Whether they’re structural, mechanical, civil or environmental, engineers are often tasked with designing solutions to problems that don’t yet exist. Everything from maintenance and glass performance to water consumption/distribution and pest control, engineers need to run every decision they make through hundreds of hypothetical ‘What if…?’ scenarios.

If a building doesn’t meet the aesthetic conditions of the brief, fault the architect. But if a building fails to perform, engineers risk much more than their reputations.

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June 2020
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