Design integration with structural engineering is not a new idea. We have long seen how close collaboration with other project team members has led to the creation of unique and unusual buildings. Sustainable design integration with structural engineering at a project's onset is an opportunity for structural engineers to contribute to a project's sustainability. From the perspective of environmental sustainability, we think of building design in terms of four key natural elements: the Earth, Wind, Rain, and Sun.
Depending on the given site topography, a building can sometimes be sited into a hillside in order to take advantage of the inherent heating and cooling benefits gained from the surrounding subsurface temperatures. Structural retaining walls can be used to take advantage of the surrounding subsurface temperatures. Similarly, green roofs can be used to provide heat relief during the summer months and freeze protection during the winter. The structural engineer considers the coordination of structural loads and detailing for green roof framing systems. The selection of certain foundation systems can reduce unnecessary excavation and soil removal. The selection of certain materials can reduce waste and carbon emissions from manufacturing processes. The structural engineer considers the construction process itself in the interest of sustainable design by reducing the waste involved with traditional design and construction practices.
We are used to designing buildings to withstand the effects of wind loading. However, wind effects on a building structure can also be an important sustainable design strategy. Natural ventilation techniques of cross and stack ventilation can integrate with the building's structure when floor plates and floor openings, floor framing orientation, and structural wall placement are thoughtfully considered. Site placement and building orientation are important considerations when creating a relationship with the regional prevailing winds. For certain structures, roofs can be sloped or shaped to enhance ventilation. Site-specific wind effects can be channeled by structural elements such as exterior screen walls. Floor slabs can be considered for radiant heating systems. Thermal breaks at exterior balcony structural slabs are important in maintaining an efficient interior heating and cooling system.
Water collection and reuse is also a sustainable strategy in reducing surface runoff and its load on the civil infrastructure. Green roofs can slow down the storm runoff effect. Besides green roofs, structural roofs can also be sloped and shaped to channel storm runoff into water collection systems for reuse as gray water.
At the planning stage of any building project, it is important to consider the relationship of a building to the Sun's path throughout the year. A building can be more sustainable when its form, proportions, and materials are adapted to take advantage of the Sun's benefits, while also avoiding the Sun's less desirable effects. Thermal mass can be used to store the Sun's heat during the day and then to later release this heat during the cooler evenings. Concrete or masonry walls used in the building design can be an effective structural strategy for thermal mass heating and cooling. Sunscreens and facade systems that diffuse the solar heat gain during the day can work together with exposed structural steel framing components to provide an interesting architectural expression. Coordination of daylighting and exterior views with the placement of shear walls or frame-type structures is important because of the reduced demand for energy consumption from artificial lighting and because of the benefits from being connected to the outdoors.
Our designs strive to meet the requirements to satisfy all of the concerns for safety, serviceability, and sustainability; all together. We strive to contribute in a significant and meaningful way to the sustainable efforts of the design and construction team.