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Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

I get asked by a lot of builders and homeowners how to come up with an architectural design that is "cost effective" to engineer.
In other words, they are trying to avoid getting to the 11th hour of construction only to find out that that "cool" architectural flair is now
blowing their budget apart because it takes a steel frame to support said flair.

They want to engineer it first, and 'architect' it second.

I tell them to keep on module (2 ft), to not take out all of the shear walls etc, to provide some spots to run columns etc, to maintain certain ratios
in regards to window vs wall, and beam vs span, to stay with conventional materials and methods (more subs to bid on these items, as compared to specialty subs),
to coordinate the MEP (mechanical - elec - plumbing) with joist layouts and directions etc.

Just curious what everyone's response is to this seemingly common question.

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

A good architect would tell a customer the same thing.
... and be ignored to an equal extent.
... and be blamed for the result of their hubris to an equal extent.

Include a fee for hubris as in invisible line item in your invoice.

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

Design or analysis, which do you do first? In reality they're usually done simultaneously and not shown to the customer individually. If an engineer or architect is getting to the "11th hour" in the construction process and needing to make major changes to either the design or budget without a change in customer direction then they should be held liable for their own incompetence.

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

I agree with Greg that it is the architect's job. It doesn't necessarily have to be "engineered" first, but the architect should have a basic idea of the structural requirements while they're working through their design. If the engineer is designing the structure at the 11th hour of the project, then it sounds like someone already dropped the ball (architect, owner, project manager, GC). So I guess the answer is to find a good architect. They're rare, but they do exist - and are a treat to work with.

I used to do quite a bit of steel stud design, and in that line of work I realized that most architects have no clue about the structural limits of common building materials. Steel studs are very versatile, but most definitely have limits. For example, I've seen an architect call for a 3 5/8" exterior stud wall (wind only, no significant axial load) that was over 20' tall on the penthouse of a 20 storey building. And of course this wall had huge openings in it. In that case, the architect could have saved everyone some time and money by having at least a rough idea of the limits of steel studs.

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

I tend to agree as well with this being the architect's responsibility.

To CANPRO's note about architects and their knowledge of building material capacity, this is very much the case with the newer architects. Once they have been burned once or twice making stupid specifications like that they tend to learn a bit. One of the things I try to do at the very beginning of a project is look for silly stuff like his example and point it out to the architect as soon as possible. This is even before I put pencil to paper.

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

Not using this an an excuse, but mainly a reason....there are far fewer architects these days involved on residential jobs.
Because there is no requirement to have one in many areas, the client 'sees' very little value in hiring one.

In turn, the engineer (who is required by the local building dept to be involved) is suddenly front and center to all of these
architectural questions. The end result is that we get thousand of dollars in add fee services for something we don't normally do
(or shouldn't do for that matter).

As the job develops and the client suddenly sees how it looks...the changes start coming.

I guess I could avoid jobs without architects.....

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

I don't think you need to avoid jobs without architects...as you said, that would more or less take you out of the residential market. I think you just need to make it very clear from the start that your scope of work is structural related items only. I've been in that situation many times, working directly for the contractor or homeowner with no architect involved - and same as you, I would get architecturally related questions. I would discuss the issue informally with them, maybe offer up my thoughts (verbally)...but I would always make it very clear that these items were outside my area of expertise, and I was not offering a professional opinion. A reasonable homeowner or contractor would hopefully understand that.

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

Canpro, the problem I have run into (just today in fact) is that many homeowners acting as their own GC's are suddenly in a bind when it becomes obvious that their home grown horrible design solutions are a complete failure. Rather than take that responsibility and look like the idiot they are, they turn to you, wondering "why you didn't say anything" or make their ridiculous design work within their meager budget. I agree with your statement "make it very clear from the start".

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

I no longer work on those kinds of projects, but I did for much of my career to date - the problem you're describing in your last post is giving me some flashbacks to almost identical situations. I wish I had more to add. I feel your pain.

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

Most homeowners do not go through the home design/build process more than once and go into their first endeavor in a complete state of ignorance, especially the ones at the low end of the spectrum. An architect can warn all he/she wants and his warning will be completely ignored if not ridiculed.

I find that many clients think the contractor walks on water and the architect must redo a design an infinite number of times. The contractor will say anything is possible and will not offer realistic cost impacts until he has an engineer look at it or a supplier bid whatever ridiculous idea has been conjured up by Mr. and Mrs. First Time Home Builder/Renovator and by that time it's too late.

This is not the odd case. This is the rule. It is very infrequent that you get a homeowner who has a reasonable grasp of design/building/construction costs. And don’t even get me started with code and permitting issues.

I dodged a job like this in the office (taken on as a favor for the big boss’ friend who works at BIG TECH COMPANY.) I looked at it and said it was going to be a black hole. The fee was 1/10 of what it should be. Mr. BIG TECH MAN does not work in an area where he could throw good jobs our way (he’s an accountant.) The project involves turning a 1,000 sf 2-bed, 1-bath house into a 4-bed, 4 ½ bath palace without moving one exterior wall, and hopefully, not having to notify the neighbors as to the nature of the project as required by city ordinance.

The first level of the house is below the level of the street and the driveway slopes into the lower level without the benefit of area or French drains and this is where two of the bedrooms are going. It is in one of the foggiest and wettest parts of the City.

My boss took on the project and has had to redo the design multiple times and has pretty much worked on it every weekend since Christmas. I feel sorry for him, but not enough to take it on myself. I tried to warn him but apparently architects don’t listen to other architects either.

If you are offended by the things I say, imagine the stuff I hold back.

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.


As a mechanical designer, I know approximately how each and every one of my components will be fabricated, and I have a plan for assembling everything. Design For Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA) is standard practice among competent designers.

Is there some architectural equivalent of DFMA? I find it hard to believe that an architect would be allowed to design something without a rigorous understanding of how it would be erected.


RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

Oh, thanks for that laugh! No, architects do not spend any time in school actually learning constructibility. Diane H., am infamous architectural candidate when I was in school, NEVER would have gotten her degree (meow).

I learned because my mother's family were brick and stone masons going back generations and we (my siblings and cousins) all worked in the family business in summer. My first job out of school was doing erection procedure and steel shops for a structural engineer where I not only learned how to build but what equipment was needed. I've also worked for various contractors along my career path. Friends who followed a more traditional design path are much better at selecting furnishings and finishes than I am, but they couldn't build their way out of a paper bag if they had instructions handed to them.

If you are offended by the things I say, imagine the stuff I hold back.

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

Have any of you watched this (terrible) movie? The Architect


RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

I believe that is a remake of a similar horrible movie from the 1930s where an architect ( In this case the sensible one.) was working for a couple with Champagne tastes on a beer budget. In the original movie the wife had to be brought down to earth again, when the architect pointed out to her that her revised floor plan on the second floor, exceeded the foot print of the first floor by two whole rooms.Ponder


You are judged not by what you know, but by what you can do.

RE: Engineering First. Architecture 2nd.

What, that's doable... some posts here, some I-beams there, viola! Bigger second floor pipe

Dan - Owner

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