In our blog this week we will revisit the very important topic of the Structural Engineer during Construction. We discussed this subject in a previous blog The Structural Engineer’s role in Construction – From design through CA which highlighted several aspects of this step in a building’s evolution:
In this Part II Blog of the Structural Engineer’s role during construction, we examine several additional key pieces to a successful construction project. From setting up an initial kickoff meeting prior to the start of construction to providing an opportunity for younger engineers to see what they design to collaborative resolution of field issues to final visits and developing as-builts, construction is an important time for the Structural Engineer to be engaged and on site!
One item that’s extremely critical in the course of construction is getting off on the right foot. A kickoff meeting at the beginning of the project is critical to getting the entire team on the same page from the start. There should be a discussion of the RFI process and schedule of submittals and understanding of the expectation for response. And what is the process for responding? Will communication go through the Architect always? Should the General Contractor be copied on communication before official responses go out? Is there a tracking system in place where all the RFI, Submittal, meeting minutes, etc. are kept? These are often not always the same answers on each project and they should be thoroughly worked out at this kickoff meeting. Another good topic is discussing and confirming the steps at which site visits and Structural Observations are to be performed during the project. Establishing the process early with key team members involved issues is all to the benefit of the overall project and will go a long way to keeping things moving forward and on schedule.
Construction is a great learning opportunity for younger engineering staff to get on-site to “kick the tires” and see what we’re designing. As engineers, we often find ourselves behind a desk preparing calculations and running computer analysis without the opportunity to get a chance to see how things are physically built. A line drawn on a paper is often very different in appearance, shape, size, and relational context to the rest of what is being built in the field. Being able to go and see that on site is extremely important and a great time to get engineers out to interact with the elements we design and with the people who build it. It also gives us the very real understanding that drawing our plans, section, elevations and details to scale is extremely important. We’ve all seen in the field those times when the detail drawn on paper did not appear to be as intended when built in the field and this can, at times, be attributed to “not to scale” details. Site visits by younger engineers helps improve their skills for the next project!
Often times in construction there are elements that are not fully known until construction has begun. This can be site conditions after demolition, as-built plans that were relied upon, but ultimately did not match field conditions, or Owner direction changes during construction. Unforeseen conditions require a collaborative approach and typically rapid resolution process to make changes while construction is ongoing. In an unforeseen condition situation when an issue is identified as different than what was drawn on the drawings and the team needs to deal with it, collaborative coordination between Contractor, Architect, Owner, Structural Engineer and/or other disciplines, as required, is extremely important in the process of not only resolving the issue but resolving it as quickly as possible with as minimal design and cost impact to the overall project. Part of this process may involve a review of changes to the plans as well as changes to the contract where change orders are reviewed for the Owner from Contractor scope changes. A quick and collaborative approach to changing field conditions when they occur is critical to keeping projects on schedule and on budget.
And when construction is close to achieving substantial completion, the SE should have one last opportunity to visit the jobsite. Major structural work has likely been done for months. And while much of the building may be covered up at this time, this last visit provides one last look at the building for the design professional to confirm what was designed is what was built. Has anything changed since the last visit? Did any modifications happen in the field that were not communicated to the SE? Often everything is coming together as designed, but this is the last opportunity to confirm before the building goes into use.
And finally, developing a final as-built set that incorporates any updates during construction should be a part of every project. The as-built set allows Owners a snapshot of the actual construction of the building and a tool to rely on for future improvements to the building.
It should go without saying how important the Structural Engineer’s role is in construction and how important the construction period is for the Structural Engineer. The Nishkian firms nearly 100 years of Structural Engineering service includes significant achievements that could not have been realized without their critical involvement during construction. It’s an important part of the process we go through each and every time.
The design has been worked on for months, perhaps years. The engineers have completed their extensive analysis on the structure. The drawings have reached 100% CD’s. The building department has completed their review and is now ready to issue a permit for construction. The SE’s role is done, right? On to the next project!
In reality, only design work is essentially complete while the enormous task of actually constructing the project is just beginning. The Structural Engineer plays a vital part to the successful completion of a project through construction and their involvement during construction with the Owner, Architect, other design consultants, and contractor is critical.
A Structural Engineer provides a key link for the Contractor during construction, but the SE’s role and connection with construction of the project starts well before the first shovel hits dirt. Coordination of a well-planned and detailed set of construction documents is a critical first step. Unforeseen site conditions are costly enough, however, without this first step, a project can get lost in request for information (RFI’s) or confusing drawings. A well-coordinated set of documents includes coordination among the many design disciplines. This involves checks between different consultant drawings and collaboration of design team members during meetings to resolve challenges during design and before construction.