But once the building’s footprint, scale and concept are all fixed, the structural engineer busies themselves arranging columns, beams, slabs and walls in an arrangement that ultimately must provide a space for people to occupy.
We argue that these elements (still using the materials we already have available) aren’t yet being maximised to their full potential. How many of the beams in your building are as light as they could possibly be?
In the UK, we have a history of using material efficiently. During the mid-20th Century, construction labour was relatively cheap compared to the price of materials. As such, our designs took more human power to build, but used elements that contained far less material. Many of the riveted trusses, wrought iron arches and brutalist concrete waffle slabs of the era are still there today – proving how well efficiency and resilience can go together.
In the meantime, labour costs have increased, material costs have decreased, and we have moved away from elegant elements. We now seem to spend our days looking at the same shaped beams, slabs and walls on every construction site.