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3 benefits to embracing an integrated approach to building design

October 31, 2019

By Adriana Jaegerman

Bringing designers and engineers together at the table from the beginning of project design helps streamline the process

The building design process looks very different today compared to several decades ago. To design modern buildings, architects need the input of several specialists, including structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers. However, these teams usually operate in their own silos, with each one working independently from the others.

In a non-integrated approach, engineering consultants add their contributions long after the architecture has been finalized. At that point, teams take on a sort of “make-it-work” mentality—finding quick-fix solutions to problems that could have been avoided at the outset and often result in cost increases and inefficiencies.

To mitigate these issues, there is value in returning to the roots of our profession as designers and engineers of buildings. My great grandfather was an architect, builder, and engineer. In his time, it wasn’t unusual for architects to design a building’s systems and structure, up to six stories, without any input from engineers. He could be confident that what he designed was going to work. To achieve the same outcome with today’s complex projects, design and engineering services must work together at the outset of a project to overcome modern challenges and streamline the process. This is an approach we advocate with clients and partners, and this is a way of thinking that is fostered here at Stantec. In an integrated practice, the design is conceived by a multidisciplinary team allowing us to create more innovative, thought-out solutions.

Wynwood Square is a mixed-use development in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, designed by a team of Stantec architects and engineers.

At Stantec, we embrace opportunities to bring our architecture and engineering teams together to create a culture of collaboration. With many projects, architects and engineers work side by side from concept development through to project completion. As a result, team members and clients have access to experts from every discipline at any point during project design and development.

We’ve found that this approach to design has generated meaningful benefits for our clients and their projects.

1. A solutions-driven mentality

When architects and engineers collaborate on a project in the early phases, they can make better, more informed design decisions. This approach allows everyone involved to work more effectively and efficiently to find solutions to problems while saving time and money. Engineers are empowered to offer feedback early in the design process and address client questions and concerns as they come up, allowing the team to build a greater level of trust and collaboration.

We learned this firsthand during the entitlement phase of a tower project in Miami when our engineers realized that shifting the position of a corridor throughout the building would make the project more structurally efficient and cost effective. The issue involved the placement of the corridor in relation to the elevator core in the middle of the building. Architecturally, there was nothing wrong with the design, but the structural engineers noticed that the corridor’s placement would have required the addition of vertical support for the entire structure—a change that would have led to a significant construction cost increase. To address the issue, our architects simply moved the corridor to the other side of the building in their design.

Normally, this would have gone unnoticed as engineers are not usually involved in this phase of the process. In that case, the design team would have been left with two options—include vertical support and increase the construction cost or conduct a major redesign of the building around the corridor change.

Involving structural engineers at the outset of the design process also allows a team to ensure that architectural standards and structural standards are aligned early on. Too often, structural engineers are brought on midstream and are forced to make adjustments to resolve issues that otherwise would have been caught early on. 

For example, on a recent project where we worked as the structural engineer for a client and an outside architect, the architecture firm sent our team their design concept drawings and unit layouts for review. Upon inspection, our engineers determined that areas designated for support columns would have led to several structural inefficiencies. In this concept, the columns would not have been able to run the complete height of the building, making the building structurally unsound. To make this design work, the addition of transfer beams to support the entire structure would have been required. But, in the world of construction, transfer beams mean one thing—a major cost increase. In this case, the construction cost would have gone up by millions of dollars. Rather than incur such a significant added cost, a redesign was done to ensure structural integrity—a process that took the architect approximately a month to complete.

Yard 8, a luxury residential tower in Midtown Miami, designed by an integrated-services team at Stantec.

2. Seamless project development

In an integrated approach, from the moment an architect reviews the site and begins creating the concept, the engineers are on hand to turn those ideas into a reality during a collaborative process model. This results in better planning and more creative designs. This integrated structure also results in seamless project development and more efficient reviews between architects and engineers who are collaborating daily.

The architects’ drawings are reviewed more promptly to mitigate structural issues, resulting in more time allocated to producing and coordinating. For clients, an integrated-services approach reduces their time spent managing groups of consultants at different firms.

When anyone on our team makes an architectural or engineering change to a design, the software we use updates the design throughout our system so everyone can see it. There is never a concern that someone is working from an older draft. Non-integrated teams, however, must update their designs regularly, either weekly or biweekly, based on the changes submitted by the engineering consultant. This extra step requires a significant amount of time and energy to reconcile two designs to eliminate inconsistencies.

The streamlined workflow and reduction in time expedites the process and cuts costs for teams and their clients.

3. Stronger designers and engineers

Architects and engineers who work within an integrated structure tend to break out of their silos, develop a broader skill set, and become more well-rounded professionals. By working closely with their counterparts, team members are exposed to all aspects of a project and learn from one another. This builds a level of familiarity and trust that fosters creativity and innovation.

In an integrated practice, the design is conceived by a multidisciplinary team allowing us to create more innovative, thought-out solutions.

The benefits of integration are perhaps most apparent in the little things I notice around the Miami office. While having lunch with some of our engineers recently, I overheard them discussing the entitlement process for an upcoming project, which, again, is not something with which engineers are normally involved. Rather than focusing on their own specialty throughout the day, it’s not uncommon for an engineer to offer well-thought-out solutions to architecture problems. It shows that our team thinks holistically about a project from start to finish, rather than approaching it with blinders on.

For our architects, working closely with engineers has been a freeing experience. When working in a siloed environment, architects tend to be more conservative in their designs, not wanting to test the limits of what is structurally possible and risk the possibility of having to do extensive redesigns after an engineering consultation. With the structural team in the same office, architects have the necessary resources at their disposal to push the boundaries in building design. It allows them the freedom to explore their creativity, break out of their comfort zones and design remarkable structures.

Tearing down the silos

The process of designing and constructing a building continues to grow more complex and challenging. Using an integrated approach helps avoid the potential struggles that can occur when design disciplines are siloed. Bringing architects and engineers together on day one generates meaningful improvements to the design process and helps maximize efficiency downstream in during construction. 

  • Adriana Jaegerman

    Having worked on Florida projects in the hospitality, commercial, higher education, residential, health care, and sports industries, Adriana is a structural engineer focused on being an inspiring and effective leader.

    Contact Adriana
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