Author Archives: Gail Williams

ISO 9001 Audit Passed For The Eleventh Year Running!

ISO accreditation

We are thrilled to have successfully passed our ISO 9001:2015 audit on 27 February 2018 for the eleventh year in a row.

Dave Silcock, the Auditor was complimentary of all the systems and procedures and we passed the audit with no major or minor non-conformances.


Talking about this year’s assessment John Staves said,

“We are absolutely delighted to achieve re-certification to the ISO 9001 standard. Our ISO 9001:2015 accreditation is a direct reflection of our staff’s dedication to quality. By following our QMS our customers can be confident that we have the appropriate processes in place to handle customer data and information securely”.

A great result for all of our team and our customers!

Structural Awards 2017 – 50th Year!

John Staves Structural Awards 2017

Structural Awards 2017 – a fantastic night celebrating the extraordinary work of Structural Engineers across the world!

structural awards 2017

The winners and commended projects were announced during The Structural Awards ceremony, held at The Brewery, London on Friday 17 November.

The evening culminated in the presentation of The Supreme Award for Structural Engineering Excellence which was awarded to the British Airways i360 (Brighton) by Jacobs

Structural Awards 2017

Addressing the audience, current President Ian Firth said

“Now in its 50th year, the awards once again celebrate the world’s most outstanding structural engineering achievements. 

Showcasing exemplary engineering, creativity and innovation, the 14 ground-breaking winners were chosen from a shortlist of 45 projects, in turn selected from 119 entries. 

The reach of the institution all over the world and the absolutely crucial role that structural engineers play in designing safe and elegant structures everywhere

Entries were received from 22 countries and after careful evaluation the judging panel shortlisted 45 impressive projects from Europe, North America, Australasia, South America and Asia

Every year the judges are impressed by the consistently high standard of the entries – this year is no exception

I know such is the strength of the entries that reviewing the entries challenged and tested the judging panel. An excellent short list that we are about to see and we are all eager to discover which projects were chosen as winners.

The judging panel were delighted to see such a positive response, especially as this year when we unveiling our new awards categories. These new categories places a stronger emphasis than before on the structural characteristics of a project rather than the type of building and therefore it represented a reflection of the engineers skills and technical accomplishments involved.

We have before us tonight an excellent international and exciting shortlist, reflecting the full spectrum of our professions work

Thank you to the judges for their diligence and care in evaluating every entry and selecting the winners

In this 50th year of the awards we have a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the remarkable achievements of our profession over the last half century and consider the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for us in the next

My year as president has shown me the remarkable drive and ability of our membership and has filled me with huge confidence for the coming year.”

The Winners

Tall or Slender Structures

Winner :- British Airways i360 at Brighton 

Long Span Structures

Winner:- San Mames Football Stadium, Cable roof extension IDOM

Structural Awards 2017

Vehicle Bridges

Winner:- Destructor Bridge, COWI Bath

Pedestrian Bridges

Winner:- The new mobile walkway of Geneva’s Jet d’Eau INGENI SA Geneva, Switzerland

Small Projects (under 1 million)

Winner:- The Pump House, Webb Yates Engineers, London

Structural awards 2017

Small Projects (between 1-3 million)

Winner:- Adele 25 stage

Structural Awards 2017

Structures in Extreme Conditions

Winner:- MeyGen Phase 1A – Tidal turbine support structures

Structural Awards 2017

Structural Heritage

Winner:- Rejuvenation of Makatote Rail viaduct

Opus international consultants

Structural Transformation

Winner:- The Design Museum, Arup, London

Construction Innovation

Winner:- Tallwood house at Brock Commons

Fast + Epp Vancover, Canada

structural awards 2017

Construction Integration

National Taichung Theater

Arup, Taichung, Taiwan

structural awards 2017

Structural Artistry

Winner:- Baha’i Temple of South America

Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Patricio Bertholt M halcrow and Josef Gartner

structural awards 2017

Outstanding Value

Winner:- ElevArch (UK) Freyssinet and BHA

Structural awards 2017


Winner:- The Enterprise Centre, BDP Norwich

To read more about this amazing night, please click here

Were you at the awards? Do any of the winners stand out to you as your personal favourite?

We’d love to hear from you

What We Learnt from Karren Brady …

Karren Brady

Baroness Karren Brady is one of the UK’s most high-profile businesswomen and one of the regular judges alongside Lord Sugar on BBC1’s The Apprentice.

Determined, hardworking, ambitious, passionate, positive

Karren Brady has been called all of these and many more.

Along with a select few business leaders, John Staves and myself recently received an exclusive invitation to spend the afternoon with Karren Brady.

Expecting plenty of ego, we were disarmed by its absence. Instead we encountered a woman who is passionate for encouraging entrepreneurial spirit and is also a champion for women in business.

“It’s all about the balls and having the courage to go and do something – work hard and dream big!” was Karren’s main message

Karren talked about when in 1993 at just 23 years of age she became the Director of Birmingham City Fooball Club,

Birmingham city           Birmingham city

In the beginning no one at the club had any drive, or ambition, there were no computers and the wages were handed out by hand! It’s incredible to think that back in 1993 women were banned from the boardrooms and the Director’s box! It was the first door that she kicked down and she has been keeping it open ever since.

In 2009 Birmingham City was sold for 82 million pounds.

During the afternoon Karren talked about the six clear ingredients to being a successful business owner;

  1. Leadership – The Ability to Lead

Having the vision. Being able to articulate your vision and being able to inspire people. Being able to get people to follow your lead. Everyone is looking to the leader to make a decision. Everyone is looking for the path forward.

  1. Ambition – The Fire Inside of You

Working with Sir Alan Sugar on The Apprentice, he would be the first person in the office in the morning and last person to leave. One of the toughest things about being a success, is that you have to keep on being a success. You do that by leading from the front, by driving forward. That personal pride to do everything in your power to drive your success.

the apprentice

  1. Determination

You cannot put Karren down –she is irrepressible. Failure is going to happen but it’s how you respond to that failure that sets you on that path. If you cannot recover, you won’t be a success. If you can find your back bone, grit your teeth, put one foot in front of the other and keep going, then you will eventually get to be the success that you want.

  1. Attitude

If you don’t like something then change it. If it’s not in your power to change it, change your attitude to it.

One rule that sums up Karren’s  attitude to all decisions in life “if I do this, what is the worst thing that can happen to me?” in life if you can protect your downside, if you can truly assess the worst case scenario and you are comfortable with that, then that should judge your attitude to every risk, every decision you make.

  1. Direction – Disguised as Hard Work

“The whole world steps aside for the person who knows where they are going”. Everyone who works with Karren spends their first day with her. So they can see how she runs the business. It takes an enormous amount of determination, hard work , strategy , integrity, positivity, enthusiasm. All day.  Every day.

  1. Be Positive

True success is hanging on when everybody else has let go.

What’s Been The Most Difficult Thing to Manage?

Karren talked about having a family and a career. When her children were young, she spent a lot of time questioning whether she should she be at a Board meeting or a nativity play or a parents evening – not really knowing which one she should be at.

On reflection, when you change your attitude to it, just accept that you can only do what you can do, then things start to change.

It’s not the person who drops them to school, it’s about the lessons that you can teach your child by being a small business owner – you are doing something you love so you can teach them;

  • Independence
  • Holding the values of your opinions
  • Trusting yourself
  • Being the best version of yourself by running your own business

There are not enough hours in the day to do the things that you want to do

So you start to develop your “Operational style” – this is only apparent when you are under pressure – it’s who you really are.

It’s really about your core values. What makes you, you. The instinctive attributes in yourself that you rely on.

Karren talked about her core values, which are the same today as they were 30 years ago;

  • Ambition
  • Determination and
  • Integrity

If you can work out what they are early on in your life it’s much easier to stay focused.

Karren’s Brady’s Advice to Young People

Most young people are ambitious, they just don’t know which direction to challenge themselves – very few people know what they want to do when they are young.

If they don’t know what they want to do they should try visualising what type of environment they’d like to work in. What type of people they would want to work with? Do they want to work in an office? in a formal setting, or outdoors?

You will need to work hard and you can only work those hours if you believe in what you are doing. You get your passion by trying different things; it doesn’t matter if you fail. Keep going until you find something that you really love, something that doesn’t feel like work.

It’s about taking every gamble, every risk, pushing yourself to do things that you don’t know how they are going to turn out – having a go.

After all, what’s the worst that can happen ..?

The New Telecoms Code – Are You Equipped?

Telecoms code

With the new Telecoms code coming into force this Autumn John Staves gives his opinion on what this new code will mean for site owners.

“I believe that the new Telecoms code will have an adverse effect on transactions; rather than easing the process which is the declared intent of the changes, site owners will be reluctant to agree leases that come under the code and renewals and new site roll out will be delayed as a result. 

Costs will increase as a result of more deals being taken to tribunal and the improved mobile services envisaged will not materialise. 

Just imagine letting a room in your house to one person and finding that you have any number of unknown visitors coming in and out as they please, without any more compensation being payable to you.  You have no power to set the rent or control who visits, whilst your lodger can charge anyone he likes to share the facilities without needing your permission!

Unintended consequences of poorly drafted legislation seem to be the order of the day.”

Last October Thekla Fellas, Fladgate LLP  was our key note speaker at our Telecommunications Seminar at Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Headquarters. Thekla has particular expertise in telecommunications disputes under the Electronic Communications Code.

telecoms code

More recently, in September 2017 John Staves attended Thekla’s seminar; The New Telecommunications Code: are you equipped?

To understand the main changes to the code and how the new procedures  will work click here

As one of the UK’s leading Telecoms Site Management companies, we provide professional, independent advice to Fire and Police Authorities to maximise the value and performance of their property portfolios.

If you want to find out how we can help you, please give us call on: 0118 962 9666.

John Staves Chair IStructE BIM Conference 2017

John Staves

Members of the Institution of Structural Engineers gathered in London last week for the Institution of Structural Engineers 2017 BIM Conference, “Moving towards BIM 2020 – Business as usual”.

BIM conference

Institution of Structural Engineers Headquarters, Bastwick Street, London

Delegates were welcomed by John Staves, Managing Director at Michael Aubrey Partnership. John talked about his passion for BIM and how as an industry we need to embrace these changes if we are going to continue to grow and meet the needs of our clients.

Our first speaker of the day was Dr Anne Kemp, chair of the UK BIM Alliance and Atkins Director responsible for BIM Strategy and Implementation across the UK.

Dr Anne Kemp

Anne talked about the UK BIM Alliance and the 3 “C’s”

  • Co-ordination
  • Co-operation
  • Collaboration

and how BIM supports what we already do – it’s about the management of the data. Together with other industries we need to mix up our ideas. At the moment we are struggling to truly collaborate.

Next up was Sarah Rock, Associate at Gowling. Sarah has written extensively on BIM for various publications including the Construction Manager BIM Handbook and is a well regarded speaker on the legal aspects of BIM.

BIM conference

There is very little case law around BIM, but Sarah highlighted a recent case Trant V Mott Macdonald Ltd (MML) where the question of who should host the common data environment was brought into sharp focus.

A considerable amount of reliance is placed upon the party hosting the data, the BIM Operator.  The BIM Operator should have a continuing obligation to ensure that the data is available to others, to allow them to progress the project.  This obligation should survive suspension and termination of their employment.

To read more about this case and judgement, click here

Sarah Rock

Sarah stressed the need for BIM practitioners to “talk” to the legal profession and to get in touch via the UK BIM Alliance.

Next up was Nigel Stroud, Geometry Information Manager at Heathrow Airport.

BIM conference

Nigel is currently part of a company wide Asset Information team leading Heathrow’s asset information strategy

Nigel talked about the enormous task of collating all the information at Heathrow and attaching this information to each asset.

At Heathrow they have a “Gateway Delivery Process” where Employer requirements won’t allow you to proceed until the next stage until it has been signed off. This ensures that everyone is clear what is required at each stage.

Graeme Forbes from Clearbox was next on stage. Graeme asked the question; are we doing BIM for the right reasons? Simplicity must dominate. As a business what is motivating you to change – is it compliance or are you trying to save time and money or both? Leadership is key and the right  technology to deliver your project is critical.

bim conference

After a quick break for tea and coffee, up next was Martin Simpson, Professor at the University of Liverpool. Martin is passionate about the digital transformation of the built environment and at Liverpool University he has set up a group to support the construction industry in its digital transformation journey “The Centre for the Digital Built Environment”

BIM conference

Martin referred us to a brilliant blog by Marzia Bolpagni

Marzia provides a comprehensive review of the ‘LOD’ term and its many nuances from across the world.

Last up was Emma Hooper, Independent Digital Information Specialistl.

Emma Hooper

Emma talked about her inspiration reading the Latham and Egan reports and how so little has moved forward since then.

A fear of liability has taken over, it’s become a game of blame.

Emma talked about how the procurement models we use are out of date for the new digital age. BIM promotes collaborative and efficient working, yet the way we procure our projects promotes siloed working and individual agenda plagued by inefficiency and a culture of blame.

Integrated project insurance (IPI)

Integrated project insurance (IPI) was one of the new methods of procurement put forward in the 2011 Construction Strategy. Described as an industry disruptor it will change the way we all work from client to subcontractor. One project bank account, one insurance, one team, removing the issues associated with liability and blame which suffocates the industry.

The fact is BIM cannot change the industry alone. IPI complements BIM methodology, and is an example of what is needed to change the industry – Dudley College Advance2, the world’s first IPI project, demonstrates how this can work.


John finished the day by thanking all the presenters and summing up the presentations.

John said “Now that the industry is getting to grips with model authoring, this day has provided a great overview of the commercial concerns and pointed to a range of possible solutions for us all to take away and update our approach to construction projects in a collaborative BIM environment”.

How are you dealing with these BIM challenges in your business?  We’d love to collaborate with you!  Give us a call on 0118 962 9666.

John Staves


BIM Conference 2017 – The Institution of Structural Engineers

BIM conference

We are thrilled to announce that our Managing Director, John Staves will be chairing The Institution of Structural Engineers 2017 BIM Conference.

The conference will focus on the need for practising engineers to adopt BIM more widely and how to collaborate more effectively with architects and builders.

Moving Towards BIM 2020: ‘Business As Usual’

Expert speakers will explore various aspects of BIM including security, safety, legal issues, Level of Detail (LoD) and Level of Information (LoI). The event will also include exciting presentations and case studies delivered from both a client and consultant perspective.

The conference is a fantastic opportunity to network with other engineering professionals, learn more about BIM and extend your CPD. Don’t miss this opportunity to get involved in the 2020 agenda of the UK BIM Alliance.

Date          26 September 2017

Time          09:30 – 17:00

Location    The Institution of Structural Engineers, 47-58 Bastwick Street, London, EC1V 3PS, UK

For more information and details of how to purchase tickets please click here.

John Staves Talking “BIM” in the The RICS Journal


“From Concept to Curtains”

In the July/ August edition of the RICS Journal, John Staves, our Managing Director describes his first-hand experience of working with BIM (Building Information Modelling) in a small practice

RICS BIM Article

Here is a transcript of the article;-

Our building information modelling (BIM) journey started in 2007 when we came across the modelling software Revit. We knew then it would fit our forward vision for the way we wanted to design, and we went on to acquire the compatible structural software so we could adopt it in the future.

When we eventually started using BIM in 2009 it felt like a leap of faith – it was an unproven technology but a good fit for the way we worked. We could see competitive advantage and the potential for improved productivity, long before the government’s 2011 construction strategy pushed the industry into at least considering BIM.

Cost-Saving Case Study

On a large project we persuaded the client, a design and build contractor, that a laser scan would allow accurate modelling of the existing building. The cost was £5,000 more than a standard measured survey.

The site was a complicated mix of buildings knocked together to form a department store and was being restructured to suit a new tenant.

The first time I visited, excavation was being carried out on the ground floor for an escalator pit. The location looked to be a potential issue, so I went into the site office with a laptop.

From the scanned model, it was instantly obvious that the primary structure at second floor would need restructuring to fit the escalator – at a cost of around £20,000. Nobody had noticed. If we moved the escalator 1m, however, that cost would be avoided. The occupant was happy with the adjusted layout, and our client was more than happy with the net saving of £15,000.

Predictable Outcome

Using BIM across the design team allows comparison of discipline-specific models. The workflow is straightforward, as each discipline produces its own model. If the whole team is not using BIM, then the total fee is split to reflect who is doing the work, without increasing the amount paid by the client. The models are brought together and conflicts resolved in the design phase, when costs are lower than they would be if we waited until the construction phase.

The construction drawings are issued from the federated model so there are no unnecessary queries from the site, designers’ margins are retained and there is no need for the builders to make contingencies for sorting out problems. Tender prices are also lower because the builder can rely on the design information, and construction becomes more predictable (see images, [position]). Clients also have fewer surprises – apart from nice ones, such as having the builder finish on time or even early, without snags and within the agreed contract sum.

Content Communication

The key to construction projects is communication. As the model develops, more content is added. The data loss that typically occurs as a project moves from phase to phase is more readily recorded and communicated, and the technical content is more intrinsically visual. The model can therefore be used to communicate the design to technical and non-technical stakeholders alike.

The client also sees its project before it is built. Technical drawings can be supplemented with 3D visuals of details for clarity, and health and safety information added. Now that projects for private homeowners are covered by Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 – meaning even the smallest works need a simple way to communicate safety information – BIM can help.

We have developed a tool that integrates Revit data into a virtual reality experience, which is aimed primarily at non-technical clients – the mainstay of smaller practices. Clients can step into the model via a smartphone and goggles, and look around each room, understanding the design and providing feedback very easily. This is a great communication tool, and the only problems are stopping clients walking into real objects while in the virtual building and getting them to remove the goggles.

Improved client outcomes encourage repeat business and referrals – and services can expand in breadth. We began life as structural engineers, but have expanded along the project timeline to take in architectural design and, more recently, construction. With the right approach and the appropriate use of BIM, the whole process from concept to curtains can be completed on time, on budget and with minimal snags.

Get In Touch

We enjoy talking to like-minded individuals and organisations – projects run smoother.

Do you use BIM? What’s your experience?

Please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you

ISO 9001 Audit Passed For The Tenth Year Running!

ISO 9001

We are thrilled to have successfully passed our ISO 9001:2008 audit on 16 March 2017 for the tenth year in a row.

Dave Silcock, the Auditor was complimentary of all the systems and procedures and we passed the audit with no major or minor non-conformances.

Talking about this year’s assessment John Staves said,

“We are absolutely delighted to achieve re-certification to the ISO 9001 standard. Obtaining the ISO award for the tenth year in a row is great achievement for our team. Receiving this award demonstrates compliance with a recognised quality standard. Our customers can be confident that they are receiving a consistent service and that we are committed to continually improving our services and managing risk for our Clients”.

A great result for all of our team and our customers!

New Team Members!


After a busy end to 2016, we are thrilled to announce the following new members to our team;

Carlos Manzano and Charlotte Omo-Edoh.

Carlos Manzano


Carlos originates from Spain and has recently completed his MEng In Civil Engineering course at the University of Burgos in Spain.

Carlos will be working as part of our Structural Engineering team working on a variety of residential and commercial projects.

Charlotte Omo-Edoh


Charlotte has recently gained a first class honours degree, BSc in Architectural Technology from Birmingham University.

Charlotte will be joining our BIM team at an exciting time, as our workload is increasing, as more and more Clients are recognising the benefits that BIM can bring to their projects.


We wish them both the very best and look forward to supporting them at the start of their careers.

Maintenance of External Fire Escape Staircases and Drill Towers

drill tower and fire escape

Today I’m talking to John Staves, our Managing Director about the issues of maintaining drill towers and external fire escapes and the need for regular structural checks.

Why Are Regular Maintenance Inspections So Important?

You have a safety obligation as an owner of that structure to maintain it in a reasonable way so that it doesn’t cause injury to anybody using it.

Regular maintenance inspections allows you to;

  • head off serious problems, which if left unchecked, can be far more costly
  • to identify problems before they become major issues and helps you avoid any unplanned maintenance activity
  • Increase the life expectancy of your drill towers and / or external staircases

How Often Should You Carry Out Maintenance Inspections?

I think maintenance inspections to check the structure every three years is sensible.

But this might be increased if you are in a more aggressive environment eg coastal where you have got marine effects on corrosion.

What Are The Main Cause of Deterioration?

External Staircases

Typically it’s weather exposure because they are external structures – they are bound to deteriorate over time.

Even a galvanised structure has a life to it. Just because it’s galvanised doesn’t mean it will last forever – you still have to schedule regular inspections!

Sometimes it’s poor initial design details, for example where a design has allowed water to pond in a particular location.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of age.

Drill Towers – Masonry Structures

Not only do they have the normal weathering environment (masonry does need re-pointing over a period of time anyway) but it’s accelerated on a drill tower because of the drill practice.

Most drill towers are subject to high pressure hosing (usually around first floor level) often there is damage to the surface of the brickwork, which would need identifying and treating.

Typically What Involvement Have You Had With Structural Assessments Of Drill Towers And External Staircases?

We have carried out 50 + of inspections of external staircases and drill towers across the UK for Fire Authorities and commercial customers.

Mainly as part of an on-going maintenance program, but recently we were called into a commercial property where they’d had a fire.

The fire brigade had attended the site and criticised the external fire escape. The owners of the building appointed us carry out a full structural assessment the condition of the fire escape and report on our findings.

What Do You Report On?

We visit sites and carry out a visual structural survey of the building fabric. We inspect staircases, platforms, walkways, ladders and drill towers.

We provide a Structural Inspection Report which includes a Schedule of Defects.

The Structural Report would;

  • identify any structural defects on, or around the staircase/drill tower
  • identify the causes of the defect
  • suggest remedial works, the urgency of repair and maintenance options

Planned Maintenance

We operate on a Red, Amber and Green system, helping you identify issues that are most urgent so you can plan your maintenance more efficiently.

red amber green








For example, for one of our customers we had identified a number of staircases within their portfolio that required external painting.

They were able to package together the work so that the contractors could move efficiently from site to site and carry out the work for the lower cost.

Why Use A Structural Engineer To Carry Out An Assessments And Not A Surveyor?

Fundamentally drill towers and external staircases are structures.

If you are looking for a relevant competent person it makes sense that a structural engineer inspects the structure.

A good structural engineer will have knowledge of the actual structure and general building fabric. Drill towers are loadbearing structures, so it’s all structure and a structural engineer would be the most appropriate person to make the assessment.

Generally we are not looking at general building defects, we are talking about defects that affect the structural components – which is usually the basis of safety.

If your structure is failing – that’s a safety issue.

Are you responsible for the maintenance of any external staircases or drill towers?

When was the last time you carried out a Health Check on your External Staircases / Drill Towers?

Why not book a no obligation telephone consultation to find out how we could help you fulfill your Health & Safety obligations. Call us today on 0118 962 9666.

“Having worked well with Michael Aubrey Partnership before, they were an obvious choice to undertake structural assessments of external staircases/drill towers. They surveyed a number of sites across a large geographical area. Their reports were clear and concise and the “Red, Amber, Green” assessment helped us easily identify sites where remedial work was urgent. Using this information we were able to plan our maintenance programme in the most efficient way”.Graeme Major, Estate and Facilities Manager, Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service

Happy Retirement Duncan Wells!

Happy Retirement Duncan

At the end of this month our colleague Duncan Wells will (finally!) be retiring at the ripe old age of 71.

A friend of John’s for over 15 years, Duncan has worked at Michael Aubrey Partnership since 2010, negotiating contracts with Telecoms Operators on behalf of the Fire and Police Service.

Duncan will be greatly missed.

Talking about his retirement Duncan said,

I’ve had a great time at Michael Aubrey Partnership – and I’ve enjoyed every single moment.  I’ll be sorry to leave – I really mean it this time! I wish everyone at Michael Aubrey all the very best and I’ll be staying in touch”.

Duncan’s replacement, Gary Meek has been working alongside Duncan since January, familiarising himself with all the Site management contracts, operators and their representatives.

Presenting Duncan with his leaving gift John Staves said,

We wish you all the very best in your retirement, it’s been great working with you and we hope that you’ll enjoy your gift – please keep in touch“.

Cheap Structural Calculations On Line – Everyone’s A Winner Right?

Good work Aint Cheap

Today I’m talking to John Staves, Chartered Structural Engineer who is deeply concerned about the increasing number of web based structural engineering companies who are offering “innovative web-based services” that are claiming to “improve the value and service” offered to customers.

John Staves

John, do you want to start by explaining what prompted this blog post and why you felt you had to speak out.

Potentially Dangerous

Being from up north, I’m going to be blunt.

I feel this way of working is potentially dangerous and is bringing the profession of Structural Engineering into disrepute.

Over the past few weeks we have had a number of Clients coming to us after their Architect had used an on line structural engineering service to produce “structural designs” – primarily so that they could obtain a cheaper price.

I use the term “structural designs” loosely.

At best you’ll obtain a cheap price, Building Regulations approval and an experienced contractor who will undertake the works.

At worst, your Client will have a poorly thought out design, from an engineer who has never visited the site and knows nothing about the existing structure.

It has been overdesigned to reduce the engineer’s liability and the Client has incurred excessive costs in construction.

Case Study – Extension and Loft Conversion

This is a small job but it highlights the problem when instructing an engineer who is not visiting the site, so can’t assess the existing structure.

A Client came to us recently – she was in the middle of an extension on her property.

There was a crack in her wall just above where the builder had installed a beam.

She was very anxious and wanted reassurance that the contractor had installed the beam correctly – she thought her house was about to fall down.

cracked wall

When our engineer went to the site it was clear that the contractor had “dropped” the wall when he was installing the beam. Part of the problem was that contractor had turned up to site not prepared for what he had found.

The joists were running parallel to the wall rather than running into the wall as you would normally expect. The structural engineer had made an assumption, provided inaccurate information and the contractor was unprepared for what he found as a result. A simple site visit would have made this obvious.

The Contractor couldn’t easily prop the inner leaf of the wall, so this caused difficulties when he installed the beam and he dropped it.

Taking No Responsibility

As the engineer hadn’t visited the site, the calculations were filled with so many caveats “we can’t possibly be responsible for this, we can’t possibly be responsible for that, if in doubt ask”.

The steelwork was marked up on the drawings in red pen with a note of the beam size. However, there were no sections, or construction details.

The structural calculations were worthless, as they did not take any liability for the design.

Cheap Engineering Quote, Big Build Cost

Initially to the Client the structural engineering design looked like a cheap quote.

What the Client didn’t realise was that as the engineer hadn’t visited the site to assess the existing structure, they couldn’t work out accurate load paths.

The engineers had to make assumptions about the existing construction (which were incorrect).

In this example, the engineer had overdesigned the steel so the Client was paying for far more steel than was needed.

There were no details in the information from the structural engineer about how the proposed beam B3 was connected to the existing beam.

On line structural engineer

Structural Engineers At Their Worst

This Client got a cheap design that the Architect found on line and ultimately it has ended up costing the Client more;

  • She has had to pay for a competent engineer to come to site and assess the existing structure and make recommendations
  • Extra cost for steelwork – it was overdesigned in the first place
  • Emotional stress – she thought her house was falling down
  • Extra costs because the contractor is arguing about who is responsible for making good the cracked wall because the details were inaccurate. 

Giving Structural Engineers A Bad Name

When a structural engineer provides such a poor service it’s giving the whole of structural engineering a bad name.

It brings the profession into disrepute.

Makes people think that structural engineers don’t add value, where as in fact we add a lot of value – if it’s done properly.

Clients Want Good Value, Not Cheap Prices

But there are structural engineers out there taking short cuts to offer a cheap price because that’s what they think Clients want.

The Client doesn’t want that, the Client wants a good job. The client wants value, not a cheap job.

The sooner the structural engineering profession learns that the better we will all be.

Good Practice

Questions To Ask Yourself

  • Will your structural engineer be visiting site so that s(he) can fully understand the existing structure?
  • Do they offer support during build if something out of the ordinary is found?
  • How long will it take for them to get to site and respond?
  • Will your builder be charging for his wasted time whilst he waits for an answer?
  • Is it worth taking that chance? In the long run it may end up costing you more.

Are you an Architect? Have you used on line structural engineering services? What worked well / didn’t work well?

Please get in touch, I’d like to hear your experiences.