Solutions, compromise and the art of project delivery
Garrit SchotView bio
One of the highlights of a project is when we sit down for a design meeting and think “how will we solve this for our client?”. The ensuing process of discussion, brainstorming and creation of solutions is the true intersection of engineering and consulting.
I think the real 'secret sauce’ to achieving this is diversity. A diversity of backgrounds, expertise and disciplines is an essential ingredient in the mix, not only for the ability to extend each other’s ideas, but also because every building – every project – involves compromises.
Out of all the viewpoints, aspirations and strategies that the client, architect and the various consulting disciplines have put on the table, we are tasked with finding the most efficient, effective and functional solutions.
The real joy is when that includes innovations and approaches that have not been tried before, but which we can prove will work through the application of physics and modelling.
This kind of evidence-backed innovation is what we create as engineers.
It has also supported the ongoing evolution of broader trends in the built environment. In some cases, we are witnessing a revival of technologies and good design principles that have been around for generations. The basic ideas of passive design, for example, with natural ventilation and light, thermal mass and solar orientation were used extensively in the eras before mechanical services.
Then, around 30-40 years ago, the dominant typology was a 'leaky' box with poor orientation that relied on mechanical heating and cooling, and artificial lighting. In recent years, we’ve rediscovered the passive approach and how to better 'seal’ buildings to reduce energy needs.
Some of the ideas being implemented for projects - such as thermal labyrinths that can serve a whole university precinct - date back centuries. However, the way we model and deliver them has advanced enormously. The Romans did not have BMS systems that could automatically direct a thermal labyrinth to perform a night purge of an amphitheatre!
As we now look to help our clients achieve net zero buildings, balancing time-tested principles of physics with new innovations will help us make the necessary compromises.
For example, large windows that admit natural light are potentially also a source of solar heat gain, so we need to look at options for striking the right balance between light / views and heat load and the corresponding energy use for services.
Factors such as budget also come into play – high performance façade glazing can be pricey – as does how space will be used by the occupants, the timelines for procurement and construction, and the client’s aesthetic goals.
We find digital engineering is exceptionally useful in supporting design refinements, validating our designs and finding the right balance between form and function. The use of 3D modelling that integrates with other tools – including Computational Fluid Dynamics modelling of prevailing breezes and airflow within spaces, thermal modelling and energy modelling – feeds into the creative process.
The speed at which ideas can be tested in real-time using parametric design escalates our ability to innovate and collaborate. Added to this is expertise from a range of disciplines. This means when the ESD expert suggests green concrete, the structural engineer and the services engineers can calculate how that affects the design to both meet the architect’s vision whilst achieving the required safety, durability and fit-for-purpose requirements for the occupants.
This is the real value of engineering expertise - thinking on our feet whilst building relationships within project teams and with clients that bring all those voices and perspectives to the table.
The end result will be a compromise – our task is to think inventively to ensure it is a customised, effective, sustainable, and functional one.