The Necessity of Structural Engineers in Building Projects
As the demand for housing has been constantly rising here in Kenya, there has been a rise of cases of buildings collapsing, latest being a case of a 6 story building in Tassia, caving in killing at least 4 and leaving dozens injured.
A quick search on the internet on “Reports of buildings collapsing in Kenya” will leave anyone with a sound mind shocked. The cases of buildings collapsing have been a common occurrence. Just a few months prior to the Residential building collapsing in Tassia, a classroom in Precious Talent Primary school collapsed killing 7 pupils and injuring many others.
According to the National Construction Authority(NCA) quarterly report of March 2019, “The collapse of buildings in Kenya remains an intractable problem, and dates back 25 years, with the first major recorded case being the collapse of Sunbeam Supermarket along Moi Avenue in Nairobi’s Central Business District in 1996, which killed 35 people. Previously, a multi-story building in Dagoretti had collapsed in 1990, killing one person and injuring a few others”.
This problem has made me ask myself, what needs to be done to change this trend? I am certain that there should be a multifaceted approach to a solution but today I would just like to focus on a single angle and that is, “The Necessity importance and role of Structural Engineers in the process and construction of a structure” The conception, design, and construction of a building is a process that involves many disciplines that are all important to the success of the project.
In any building project, the Architect is responsible for the appearance of the structure. The architect defines the form and function of a building, he/she gives it character, identity, and shape. The architect is tasked to interpret the vision of the owner. Just like in a human body, they define the flesh and muscles of the building, therefore, defining its aesthetic appeal and outlook.
The Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) Engineers design the air conditioning, temperature, water and sanitation systems that make the structure livable and workable to the owner and users of the structure. As in the human body, they define the respiratory and digestive systems of the building.
On the other hand, the Structural Engineers have the role of ensuring that the building is deemed fit for use by its occupants over its design life. The Structural Engineers have the sole responsibility of ensuring the safety of the building against collapse under worst-case conditions. The Structural Engineer, therefore, designs the framework of the building to ensure it robustly resists all loads applied to the building. As in the human body, they design the bone structure of the building.
As illustrated above it is more than clear that all those involved in the design process of a building play a critical role not to mention the very important role played by the Interior designers who define the feel and the mood of the building.
It, therefore, goes without saying that any compromise in the soundness of a structure to resist design loads, should call for the attention of the Structural Engineer, yet little is known of the importance and role of the Structural Engineers in the design process of a building.
Many here in Kenya, in response to demand in housing especially in urban areas, are lured to investing in raising apartment buildings. However, a good percentage do not appreciate the process involved in constructing a secure and sound structure. The majority of investors in this sector only think that all they need is just an architect to do the space planning and in order to save on costs find a “foreman” in the neighborhood who has the experience to do the rest. This approach, in my opinion, has played a big role in the disasters we are currently facing as a country and many structures in our rapidly growing urban setups are ticking time bombs. It is not a matter of whether it will happen, it is a matter of when it will happen.
Going forward it is therefore key for the country to wake up to the importance of Structural Engineers to the safety of our buildings.
What is the role of a Structural Engineer?
After the Architect has finished with the initial drawings of the building, the structural engineer is supposed to come in. The Structural Engineer using the building codes relevant to their country, therefore, carries out in-depth calculations to ensure that the building will resist all that will be thrown at it.
The Structural Engineer will define all the design loads with the help of the design code. Having the loads, load cases and combinations, he/she will conduct an analysis to simulate the behavior of the structure under worst-case scenarios. The Structural Engineer then defines the materials and member sizes that would be suitable to resist the forces generated. This design is a watertight process that ensures the structural integrity of the building right from the roof framing, columns, slabs, beams, and the foundations. These members are therefore optimized to ensure that the budget is taken into account without compromising the safety and robustness of the building.
The Structural Engineer then goes ahead to produce detailed structural drawings that are then used in conjunction with the detailed drawing from the Architect and the other Engineers involved. When the Project gets to the construction stage the Structural Engineer is then involved in the inspections of the construction to ensure quality assurance and control. The Structural Engineer ensures that the building is constructed as per the standards of practice and drawings generated.
Why Structural Engineers are needed?
I would like to conclude this article by stating that the importance of Structural Engineers in any Design, Building, and Construction cannot be overemphasized. Any person should know that any building that stands upright against gravity, wind, earthquake and other forces is not simply by chance. Any bridge that enables you to cross from one point to another against all forces thrown to it is not a result of trial and error. Any dam that is used as a reservoir for water and generation of electricity is not a work of miracle. All these are facilities that we use daily and do not think of what it takes to make them functional safe and secure for use. It is time we appreciated our unsung heroes, those Structural Engineers who work behind the scenes to save our everyday lives