Structural engineering – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building, currently under construction in Dubai

Structural engineering is a field of engineering dealing with the analysis and design of structures that support or resist loads economically. Structural engineering is usually considered a specialty within civil engineering, but it can also be studied in its own right.[1]

Structural engineers are most commonly involved in the design of buildings and large nonbuilding structures[2] but they can also be involved in the design of machinery, medical equipment, vehicles or any item where structural integrity affects the item’s function or safety. Structural engineers must ensure their designs satisfy given design criteria, predicated on safety (e.g. structures must not collapse without due warning) or serviceability and performance (e.g. building sway must not cause discomfort to the occupants).

Structural engineering theory is based upon physical laws and empirical knowledge of the structural performance of different geometries and materials. Structural engineering design utilises a relatively small number of basic structural elements to build up structural systems that can be very complex. Structural engineers are responsible for making creative and efficient use of funds, structural elements and materials to achieve these goals.[2]


[edit] Building structures

Sydney Opera House, designed by Ove Arup & Partners, with the architect Jorn Utzon

Millennium Dome in London, UK, by Buro Happold and Richard Rogers

Structural building engineering includes all structural engineering related to the design of buildings. It is the branch of structural engineering that is close to architecture.

Structural building engineering is primarily driven by the creative manipulation of materials and forms and the underlying mathematical and scientific principles to achieve an end which fulfills its functional requirements and is structurally safe when subjected to all the loads it could reasonably be expected to experience, while being economical and practical to construct. This is subtly different to architectural design, which is driven by the creative manipulation of materials and forms, mass, space, volume, texture and light to achieve an end which is aesthetic, functional and often artistic.

The architect is usually the lead designer on buildings, with a structural engineer employed as a sub-consultant. The degree to which each discipline actually leads the design depends heavily on the type of structure. Many structures are structurally simple and led by architecture, such as multi-storey office buildings and housing, while other structures, such as tensile structures, shells and gridshells are heavily dependent on their form for their strength, and the engineer may have a more significant influence on the form, and hence much of the aesthetic, than the architect. Between these two extremes, structures such as stadia, museums and skyscrapers are complex both architecturally and structurally, and a successful design is a collaboration of equals.

The structural design for a building must ensure that the building is able to stand up safely, able to function without excessive deflections or movements which may cause fatigue of structural elements, cracking or failure of fixtures, fittings or partitions, or discomfort for occupants. It must account for movements and forces due to temperature, creep, cracking and imposed loads. It must also ensure that the design is practically buildable within acceptable manufacturing tolerances of the materials. It must allow the architecture to work, and the building services to fit within the building and function (air conditioning, ventilation, smoke extract, electrics, lighting etc). The structural design of a modern building can be extremely complex, and often requires a large team to complete.

Structural engineering specialties for buildings include:

  • Earthquake engineering
  • Façade engineering
  • Fire engineering
  • Roof engineering
  • Tower engineering
  • Wind engineering