5 Things You Should Know About Structural Design

Engineers are behind the scenes of everything. Running shoes. Snowboards. The launch of spacecraft. And, more than anything, structures and buildings.

The design of safe buildings, capable of withstanding earthquakes, or deep-sea oil rigs, able to withstand the battering of massive waves. We can thank engineers for the miracles of the modern world.

But structural design is a complex thing, and there are a lot of moving parts. What actually goes into it, and what makes for good structures and design? Keep reading to find out.

1. What Is Structural Design?

Structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering that deals with the effects of physical force on structural elements. Basically, structural engineers crunch the numbers in the background and make sure their structures will respond well to the physical forces placed on them.

There are four core fundamental principles a structural designer must take into consideration. They must:

  • Produce a structure that can resist all loads applied to it.
  • Determine the strength, stability, and rigidity of said structures.
  • Ensure the structural safety of the building for all those involved.
  • Work collaboratively with other professionals and provide the right dimensions of their structures.

Structural engineers and designers are trained to design their work in such a way that they are not only accurate, but safe. So while structural design is an integral part of civil engineering, it is still a sub-division in its own right.

2. What Do Structural Engineers Do?

A structural engineer will collaborate with an architect for the project’s original design. Yet, while architectural design is interested in the building’s aesthetic appeal, a structural designer is concerned about the structure’s stability and durability.

An engineer must consider three factors while building a structure:

  • Strength
  • Serviceability
  • Durability

It must be strong enough that it won’t fail or collapse. Serviceable enough that it won’t bend, droop, sway, or vibrate, and durable enough to not corrode, rot, or suffer physical fatigue. An engineer will consider how different materials twist, flex, and vibrate, and use their calculations to build sustainable and safe projects.

That being said, an engineer is constantly under pressure to meet the expectations of the project’s other players and stakeholders. What makes a good engineer is how they go about achieving this goal. How do they use their creativity, innovation, ingenuity, and judgment to complete the task?

3. Where Would You Find a Structural Design Engineer?

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of specialties in structural engineering. Most structural engineers don’t just work on “buildings,” but on specific types of structures. These could be anything from multi-family housing, healthcare institutions, and skyscrapers. Engineers that specialize in wind and earthquake engineering will aim to prevent weakness in the case of an emergency. Commercial structural engineers may work on warehouse-to-loft conversions or office buildings, whereas transportation structural engineers specialize in bridges, dams, or trains.

With that in mind, structural engineers typically focus on a single industry. This lets them become experts in their field and better able to face the unique challenges and requirements that come up. Structural engineers can work in a variety of industries, including:

  • Airports
  • Structures on the coast and at sea
  • Bridges
  • Power plants
  • Railways
  • Structures for water and public health

Typically, structural engineers operate as consultants or contractors.


Consultants typically spend most of their time in an office setting. They create blueprints or reports, manage projects, and develop plans. They will go to building sites occasionally, but this will only take up a minor percentage of their time.


Contractor structural engineers spend most of their time on the job site. They’re in charge of the more hands-on aspects of engineering, like overseeing construction crews and monitoring projects as they’re being built.

4. The Difference Between a Structural Engineer and a Civil Engineer

We mentioned that structural engineering is a subset of civil engineering. However, in order to work as a structural engineer, one may need to continue their studies by enrolling in a postgraduate structural engineering program.

Engineers all think differently. They have different skillsets and talents, receive different training and mentoring as children, work for different companies with different philosophies and business models. This diversity of background naturally drives and results in various design outcomes and fields of work.

5. The Technicalities

An engineer must address important structural and design considerations before breaking ground on any new project. They will develop a complete structural analysis and design plan using the project’s architectural blueprints, keeping these four crucial criteria in mind.

Design Codes and Standards

All national, state, and municipal construction standards give the go-ahead for permits and procedures. An engineer must follow the design codes of their state when starting a new project. When designing a proposed project, these institutions may have a hand in the standards:

  • American Concrete Institute
  • American Wood Council
  • American Institute of Steel Construction
  • American Society of Civil Engineers
  • Department of Defense

These are but a few of the organizations responsible for ensuring the safety of building structure and design, and they hold the country’s engineers accountable if failures occur.

Load Considerations

A load consideration analysis is always necessary for structural design. The type of occupancy for the structure, as well as the structure’s height, will influence load considerations. The following are three common building loadings:

  1. Dead Load (DL): Usually made up of the member’s or structure’s own weight.
  2. The floor finishes and the weight of the partitions make up the superimposed dead load (SDL).
  3. Live Loads (LL) are moving loads that a structure can support.


A good structural engineer should be able to rely on themselves, just as much as their software, when designing and framing their work. Only once they have physically laid out the geometry and sizes of all the key pieces can they turn to their preferred engineering software to validate and revise their designs.


The ultimate performance of a building depends on the efforts of all project participants working together. Following the completion of all analysis and designs, a structural markup will be presented. This will include the design, schedule, and budget. To guarantee that every aspect is accounted for in the overall timetable, comprehensive engagement amongst all stakeholders is required at this stage.

Work With a Designer Today

The first stage of any structural design project is the draft. It’s the planning, the strategies, and the first stroke of a pencil. That’s what comes together to bring a project to life. We focus on quality and efficiency and bring our stellar eye for design to every project.

Get a quote today and let’s see what we can do together.


Project Files

File {#} - {delivery-file-name}

+ Add more

Entry {#}

+ Add more
Square Feet