Addressing the complexity of sustainability-driven structural design: Computational design, optimization, and decision making
Doctoral thesis, 2021

Being one of the sectors with the largest environmental burden and high socio-economic impacts sets high requirements on the construction industry. At the same time, this provides the sector with great opportunities to contribute to the globally pursued sustainability transition. To cope with the increasing need for infrastructure and, at the same time, limit their sustainability impacts, changes and innovation in the construction sector are required. The greatest possibility to limit the sustainability impact of construction works is at the early design phase of construction projects, as many of the choices influencing sustainability are made at that point. Traditionally, an early choice of a preferred design is often made based on limited knowledge and past experience, considering only a handful of options. This preferred design is then taken on to the successive stages in the stepwise design process, leading to suboptimization.

Alternatively, many different design choices could be considered and evaluated in a more holistic approach in order to find the most sustainable design for a particular application. However, finding design solutions that offer the best sustainability performance and fulfil all structural, performance and buildability requirements, require methods that allow considering different design options, analysing them, and assessing their sustainability. The aim of this thesis is to explore and develop methods enabling structural engineers to take sustainability objectives into account in the design of structures.

Throughout this thesis, a number of methods have been explored to take sustainability aspects into account in the structural design process. As a first step, highly parameterized computer codes for sustainability-driven design have been developed. These codes interoperate with FE analysis software to automatically model and analyse design concepts over the whole design space and verify compliance with structural design standards. The codes were complemented with a harmonized method for life cycle sustainability performance assessment, in line with the state-of-the-art standards. Here, sustainability criteria were defined covering environmental, social, economic, buildability and structural performance for multi-criteria assessment of design concepts. To identify the most sustainable designs within the set, multi-objective optimization algorithms were used. Algorithms that address the high expense of constraint function evaluations of structural design problems were developed and integrated in the parameterized computer codes for sustainability-driven design. To ensure the applicability and validity of these methods, case studies based on real-world projects and common structural engineering problems were used in this thesis. Case studies for bridges and wind turbine foundations as well as a benchmark case of a reinforced concrete beam were investigated.

The case studies highlight the potential of the methods explored to support the design of more sustainable structures, as well as the applicability of the methods in structural engineering practice. It is concluded that it is possible and beneficial to combine computational design, life cycle sustainability assessment, and multi-objective design optimization as a basis for decision making in the design phase of civil engineering projects. A wide adoption of such a sustainability-driven design optimization approach in structural engineering practice can directly improve the sustainability of the construction sector.

integrated design

concrete structure

parametric design

structural engineering

finite element analysis

life cycle sustainability assessment



civil engineering

multi-objective design optimization

wind turbine foundation

Online - Password to the digital meeting is available from
Opponent: Prof. Helena Gervasio, Civil Engineering Department, University of Coimbra, Portugal


Alexandre Mathern

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering

Life Cycle Sustainability Performance Assessment Method for Comparison of Civil Engineering Works Design Concepts: Case Study of a Bridge

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,; Vol. 17(2020)p. 1-34

Journal article

Automatic structural design by a set-based parametric design method

Automation in Construction,; Vol. 108(2019)

Journal article

Multi-objective constrained Bayesian optimization for structural design

Structural and Multidisciplinary Optimization,; Vol. 63(2021)p. 689-701

Journal article

Infrastructure works support and enable modern society activities (e.g. transportation and access to energy and water), yet at the expenses of large environmental, social, and economic impacts. In the current transition towards a sustainable society, minimizing negative impacts of construction works while still ensuring their safety and functionality is a challenging but necessary task. Structural design methods that account for sustainability are still under research and seldom applied in practice. This thesis constitutes an attempt to use sustainability indicators not only as an evaluation tool, but also to steer the structural design process towards the most sustainable solutions. Computational design methods have been here developed with the objective of implementing state-of-the-art multi-objective optimization and life cycle sustainability assessment into standard engineering practice. Computer codes were used to automate the process of generating and analysing many design configurations in the design phase of infrastructure construction projects, adopting a so-called set-based parametric design approach. Satisfactory results were obtained when exploring the design space in quest of the most sustainable design solutions. This thesis shows the feasibility and benefits of using such sustainability-driven design methods in real-world construction projects.

Projekteringsprocess för ökad hänsyn till produktions­metoder, klimat och miljöpåverkan i byggprocessen

Swedish Transport Administration (2018/68419), 2018-07-01 -- 2020-06-30.

Sustainable and Cost Effective Structural Supporting System for Onshore Wind Power Plants

Swedish Wind Power Technology Center (SWPTC), 2019-09-01 -- 2022-12-31.

ISEAWIND – Innovative Structural Engineering Approaches for design of off-shore WIND power plant foundations

Swedish Energy Agency, 2015-08-01 -- 2018-09-30.

NCC AB (SWPTCTG4-21), 2015-08-01 -- 2018-09-30.

A pilot - Sustainability driven building design based on Artificial Intelligence

Formas (2018-02630), 2018-12-01 -- 2019-09-30.

Sustainable design and production planning

Swedish Transport Administration, 2017-11-01 -- 2020-05-29.

VINNOVA (2017-03312), 2017-11-01 -- 2020-02-29.

NCC AB, 2017-11-01 -- 2020-05-29.

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance

Building Futures (2010-2018)



Subject Categories

Civil Engineering

Construction Management

Infrastructure Engineering

Environmental Analysis and Construction Information Technology

Other Civil Engineering


C3SE (Chalmers Centre for Computational Science and Engineering)



Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 4963



Online - Password to the digital meeting is available from


Opponent: Prof. Helena Gervasio, Civil Engineering Department, University of Coimbra, Portugal

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