Structurally Informed Architectural Design
Doctoral thesis, 2012
Architectural form and its supporting structure are results of interdependent design processes that do not always develop in harmony: often major outlines of architectural form are decided before structural design is involved. This doctoral work investigates design collaborations between architects and structural engineers in which architecture and structure are designed in mutual agreement, and structural design is able to guide and inspire a creation of
architectural form and space.
The research is based on case studies derived from my practices as an independent structural engineer and a teacher of structures at Sint-Lucas School of Architecture. Participatory action research is applied to design collaborations in which I work as structural engineer together with architects and groups of architecture students. In different phases of design, collaborative design meetings are staged in which changes in the collaboration process and conceptual design communication are implemented and evaluated. Each evaluated change enables an improved understanding of design collaborations, and a design of more adapted changes to implement. This cyclic process of action research leads to a development of two sets of proposals for a structurally informed
architectural design process.
A first set of proposals stimulates a mutually informed design collaboration through a cyclic process of information exchange in which a conceptual
design proposition is expressed as a wide range of possible design solutions by articulating its defining characteristics. This articulation of conceptual
design characteristics enables the architect and the structural engineer to negotiate for common design goals.
A second part of my findings presents a proposal for a new structural language that organizes structural knowledge for architectural design. This language focuses on expressing structural logic as a defining characteristic of structural conceptual design propositions through its layers of structural order, function, dimensions and design possibilities.
These proposals for a mutually informed collaboration and a new structural language are applied and evaluated in both my practices. Inquiries show that architecture students appreciate the language to express structural behaviour, and that they relate to its underlying organization of structural knowledge. Analysing different design collaborations in both practices indicates that both sets of proposals enable structural design to guide and inspire architectural design.