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Facilitating Cross-Functional/Cultural Collaboration between Architects & Engineers – Band of Brothers


When architects and engineers collaborate, they can create design solutions that are more than the aggregate of their functions. Knowledge and information exchange, especially early in a project’s life cycle, leads to better construction.

Architects are in charge of the overall design of structures, including how and what they’ll be used for, what they’ll be made of, what shape they’ll take, and how they’ll fit into their surroundings.

Engineers are usually in charge of technical problem-solving in order to turn a building design into a constructible structure, as well as suggesting ways to make designs more cost-effective and efficient.

Architects and engineers are frequently separated in the traditional design-bid-build process, resulting in counterproductive workflows.

Technologies like AR/VR and BIM bring architects and engineers together around common goals and ways of accessing a project, opening up new possibilities for streamlining projects and achieving better results.

Setting a vision for a project and exploring ways to achieve it “Together” is the key to successful & sustainable building design.

Architect vs Engineer

Architects and engineers are the two core professions in the construction industry, and their skills are completely complimentary. In general, architects are in charge of the overall design of buildings, whereas engineers are considered technicians who assist in putting this vision into action. However, the most forward-thinking and fruitful collaborations between the two blur this line significantly.

  • Architect – Architects design structures of all sizes, from a single home to an entire neighborhood. It is their responsibility to think about the building as a whole and define its conceptual direction. All of the building’s broadly defined elements, as well as how it interacts with its immediate surroundings, are the responsibility of these designers. This includes assisting clients in determining the building’s program (what activities will take place inside and how it will function), form and shape, interior environments, and materials to be used. Because of this broad scope, architects aren’t always as concerned with technical details as they should be. 

Architects, on the other hand, are increasingly concerned with ensuring that their structures run efficiently and sustainably, using as little energy as possible, and these criteria frequently necessitate extensive technical management.

The Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) is the standard professional architecture degree in the United States, and it typically takes five years to complete. The next professional degree, a two-year Master of Architecture (MArch), is seen as the preferred professional level by some architecture firms. PhD architecture programs are available, but they are usually for people who want to work in academic or research settings rather than in professional practice. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is the country’s largest professional organization for architects. Architects must be licensed to be solely responsible for a construction project, which requires passing a series of exams. Clients frequently hire architects as their primary consultants, with engineers serving as sub-consultants.

  • Engineers – While architects are in charge of the ‘WHAT’ of a structure, engineers are in charge of the crucial ‘HOW‘. Engineers have traditionally focused on the technical execution of the architect’s plan: how to balance material economy and expense to achieve the functional and aesthetic goals of a design plan. This places a greater emphasis on quantitative skills like science and math, rather than qualitative ones like artistic composition and balance. Engineers may be in charge of any of the structure’s mechanical systems and hidden infrastructure in a building (wastewater, HVAC, electrical systems, and so forth). 

Civil engineers, who specialize in public infrastructures such as airports, bridges, and roads, and structural engineers, who specialize in the structural systems for buildings and other construction projects, are the most common engineers with whom architects collaborate. Depending on the project, any number of engineering specialties may be relevant: geotechnical engineers for underground projects, transportation engineering for transit buildings, environmental engineering for green infrastructure, and so on. Some architectural engineers work in-house with architects or specialize in working with them.

Undergraduate professional engineering degrees (Bachelor of Engineering degrees) typically take four years to complete, while master’s degrees in engineering typically take two years. PhDs in engineering, like those in architecture, are typically focused on research and academia. Mechanical engineering, structural engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and material engineering are just a few of the subfields of engineering degrees available to new graduates.

Engineers must also be licenced in accordance with state laws. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) are two of the most well-known professional associations for engineers (NSPE). Engineers are typically architects’ subconsultants.

Why Collaboration in Construction?

Most construction projects necessitate communication and collaboration between architects and engineers in order to:

  • Meet the needs of clients 
  • Adhere to relevant standards 
  • Achieve design coherence, which will lead to a high-performance, safe structure

Collaboration entails the design disciplines cooperating, sharing knowledge, and learning from one another in order to design a building that is informed by professional input and consensus. Collaboration acknowledges the design development process. It relies on problem analysis and iterative feedback of design solutions and options to and from the entire design team, allowing for collective decisions at each stage.

This necessitates a presentation and discussion methodology in which the logic of design decisions is explained, and serious discussion is held. It means being a part of iterative design and contributing their professional expertise and judgment to keep the project moving forward for the participants. Collaboration also entails accepting that elements may change, and that design evolution is not only necessary but also desirable.

Is Collaboration in Construction a Challenge?

At first glimpse, the above-mentioned collaboration may appear unrealistic. Members of a design team may have a variety of professional goals and approaches to the design process. It can be difficult to bring different design perspectives together to produce a satisfactory outcome for all team members, the client, and those who will use the building during its lifetime.

Architects and engineers use different design methods and have different design foci. Architects, for example, are in charge of many aspects of design. Given the demands of complex sites and client briefs, they strive to meet clients’ expectations. They must meet both functional and aesthetic requirements, so they may want to avoid the potential blandness of symmetry, regularity, and right angles, despite the fact that these are desirable structural features.

Engineers, on the other hand, are more focused and prefer a linear design approach in their pursuit of safe, cost-effective, and code-compliant structures. Many architects strive to make building elements appear light, whereas engineers are more concerned with ‘grounding,’ or providing force paths from the superstructure to the foundations.

These discrepancies reflect different approaches to professional education. In order to synthesize a large number of design requirements, architects use an iterative process. It’s like trying to finish a jigsaw puzzle where there’s no right or wrong answer. Architects create designs and then rework them until all of the issues are resolved. Engineers iterate to some extent as well, such as when a design concept proves to be inadequate later in the project. Engineers, on the other hand, tend to focus on specific issues and look for the “technically correct” solution that provides structural integrity quickly.

What are the Challenges in Architect-Engineer Collaboration

Architects and engineers have traditionally collaborated in what is known as the design-bid-build process, a model that is gradually being phased out in favor of more collaborative, less hierarchical arrangements. In design-bid-build, an architect creates a building in isolation, then hands it over to an engineer to essentially troubleshoot the structural systems, correcting errors, and inefficiencies. The project is then put out to bid so that contractors can estimate how much they would charge for it. The project is finally completed.

As the process progresses, the architect and engineer’s relationship changes. Engineers take on consultant-like roles early on, when architects are formulating design concepts, checking the architect’s work to ensure it is viable. Engineers become more central as construction approaches and finally begins, managing and coordinating execution. Each of these phases is frequently carried out in isolation, with little communication between disciplines and a distinct “baton handoff” from one profession to the next; each discipline’s responsibilities are narrowly tailored to limit liability.

Lack of Collaboration can lead to catastrophic structural failures. Cost overruns, lost time, and wasted carbon emissions are the most common negative outcomes. Spaces are not tuned to climate and comfort. Gaps in the design and construction process can result in buildings that are too hot, cold, or draughty. Similarly, a strained architect-engineer relationship will result in spaces that are too rigid to accommodate the inevitable changes in building use over its decades-long lifespan.

Benefits of Architect-Engineer Collaboration

Collaboration can do a lot more for a project than just making it easier to design and finish.

Following are the advantages of successful collaboration between Architects & Engineers:

  • Innovation – Professionals are challenged to understand and embrace other points of view, as well as push the boundaries of their fields, by improved design and construction systems and approaches. Members of the design team broaden their perspectives and approaches to design, gaining new knowledge and skills while having fun working together efficiently and harmoniously. They collaborate to share ideas and solve problems, allowing each profession’s input to overlap.
  • Seismic Performance – Structural solutions that support architectural goals while also ensuring structural performance are unaffected by configuration irregularities such as soft-storeys or large torsional eccentricities are used to achieve optimal seismic performance.
  • Cost-Benefit – A cost-effective floor system, as well as cost-effective beams and foundation design, are made possible by a structurally refined column layout.
  • Reduced Rework – Effective collaboration between architects and engineers results in reduced rework and gives you the confidence to keep the design development process moving forward.
  • Enhanced Quality – When structural layout and service components are seamlessly integrated with architectural planning requirements, functional and aesthetic goals are better met.

Facilitating Collaboration

More collaborative approaches between architects and engineers are surfacing, calling into question how cross-disciplinary teams collaborate in the first place. For example, in integrated project delivery (IPD), architects, engineers, project managers, clients, and contractors sign a joint contract at the start of a project that outlines shared risk and involvement throughout the entire design and construction process. This establishes communication protocols and workflow processes that ensure that everyone on a project is aware of what’s going on at any given time, resulting in a higher and more participative level of quality control.

This practical approach can be enhanced with digital tools like building information modeling (BIM), which provides all parties with a shared, manipulable model. It eliminates some of the problems that come with having the architect ‘in charge of all of the project’s consultants. An integrated project requires all of the major players to work together as a team from the start.

BIM is one of many tools that architects and engineers can use to improve cross-discipline collaboration. BIM allows professionals to access more detailed information about buildings at various stages before, during, and after construction; 3D-design software like Autodesk Revit can assist designers and engineers in making sound decisions early on, saving time and money by preventing issues later on.

Most importantly, in this context, a winning idea can come from any discipline. At an early stage, bringing all building and construction disciplines to the table means essentially opening up the holistic design of the building to all team members—a spotlight that some architects are wary of sharing.

Some Tips: –

For Architects

  • For the best project outcome, begin collaboration as early as possible by involving structural and other engineers during the pre-design/concept design stage.
  • Match an engineer’s knowledge and experience to the project’s complexity.
  • When leading a design team, foster an open and trusting culture to encourage knowledge sharing and a consensus approach that is “best for the project.”
  • Facilitate communication with and among design team members so that everyone is fully engaged in the project and is satisfied with and accountable for the solutions at each design stage.
  • Gain a better understanding of seismic design issues, both structural and non-structural.

For Engineers

  • Recognize that architectural design is iterative and thus differs from engineering design in that it involves the synthesis of a wide range of different criteria.
  • Work with the design team as constructively as possible, anticipating that early concept design solutions will need to be developed, refined, and in some cases reworked.
  • Look for innovative solutions that could improve the project beyond conventional solutions, while maintaining core engineering requirements and acknowledging areas of possible compromise.
  • Before suggesting solutions, learn about the desired architectural concepts and qualities.
  • Recommend that the client hire an architect at the pre-design/concept design stage when acting as lead consultant on a seismic retrofitting project.

5 Examples of Architect-Engineer Collaboration at its best

  1. Museum of the Future in Dubai
  1. Marina Bay Sands Resort in Singapore
  1. O-14 in Dubai
  1. Poly International Plaza in Beijing
  1. Hudson Yards in New York City

Engineers and architects both need to change their mindsets. Engineers must adapt positively to architects’ iterative design approaches, while architects must understand structural principles and incorporate core engineering requirements into their design imagination, drawing on engineers’ specialist expertise.

Both must abandon preconceived professional attitudes in favor of collaborative lateral thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Understanding that cross-functional collaboration is psychology rather than technology is the key to success. Collaboration is more of an attitude that needs to be instilled in a company’s culture than a process that can be codified into a set system. It starts with everyone acknowledging that they all contribute something valuable to the project and that their collective intelligence is more likely to produce positive results than working in silos. This can be difficult for architects because the profession is steeped in a culture of individual ownership.

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