Collaborator Showcase – Design Engineering Workshop

Alongside the well thought-out and creative architectural design work that underpins the look and feel of a build, every project needs sound structural engineering.

This stage in a process can often be absolutely pivotal - tackling challenges, solving problems, envisioning scope and scale and beginning to consider the real, tactile existence of a project after much planning and consideration. At Brown & Brown, one of our key collaborators at this stage is Design Engineering Workshop.

Based in Glasgow, they are a structural engineering consultancy who specialise in architecture and design-led projects, and having worked with them on some standout projects (Lower Tullochgrue, Spyon Cop) we can only too happily endorse their creativity and analytical skills.

Photography © Design Engineering Workshop

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We spoke to Alan Fraser, Founder/Structural Engineer at Design Engineering Workshop on projects, digital tech and challenging builds...


B&B: What gets you excited about a project?

Alan Fraser: It sounds obvious, but the engineering challenges - every project, no matter how small or seemingly straightforward, will bring its own.

Some challenges are brought about by design, for example an architect wanting to achieve an impossibly thin roof-edge detail, or a sculptor hoping to defy gravity with an amazing installation. Others are brought about by things like site constraints of existing buildings and others are totally unforeseen, like when you start digging to pour foundations and find an unexpected band of peat soil.

The engineering challenges bring joy and sleepless nights in equal measure.

B&B: Digital technology of course has its impact in all areas of engineering, architecture and building projects. In terms of structural engineering, what has changed and what has stayed the same?

AF: The most noticeable change for us is the pace of design and delivery, which has ultimately been facilitated by digital technology. Even since I started it has ramped up significantly (my colleague Mark remembers the days of drawing boards and posting drawings to architects during the coordination process!). It’s a shame because we often find there isn’t enough lag or time to enjoy projects when they are finished or at key milestones.

Digital technology for us means working in a 3D environment for both structural analysis and drawing production. Even the most recent structural design codes are designed with automation/spreadsheets in mind (do spreadsheets count as technology?).

The engineering fundamentals remain the same though – it’s all well and good having an all-singing structural analysis model, but if you don’t understand the inputs and results you’ll run into trouble! The trusty old calculator, hard hat, hi-vis jacket and looking like an uncomfortable engineer on site are things that will never change.

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B&B: What's the one thing you wish you'd been told when you were studying/a junior engineer that you know now?

AF: Don’t be afraid to push things and make mistakes so long as you learn from them (and your senior engineer catches it before it goes to site!). Think about engineering challenges from first principles and consider problems in different ways. That’s what we like about doing artworks and sculptures – there’s no design guides or details handbooks, you really need to think about it.


B&B: What are the key considerations for Design Engineering Workshop when building in remote/challenging locations?

AF: Buildability normally needs some thought. You need to ensure that what you design is considered in terms of structural materials (can these be sourced locally?) and what can actually be delivered (think single track roads halfway up mountains - a couple of our projects were so remote that they were prefabricated in sections and delivered to site by helicopter!).

Ground conditions in many areas of the country can be difficult and unexpected so you need to ensure you’ve been diligent in your background research of the site’s geology.

Wind and snow loads also tend to increase with height above sea level. This often results in buildings having a higher snow load than what you would design a floor for (around 150kg/m2), and some wind loads can be twice as much as this. You’re really battling the elements!

It’s amazing to work on these projects though, as we get to see parts of the country that you wouldn’t normally venture to.

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B&B: What's the most satisfying thing about concluding a project?

AF: Concluding a project comes in a few stages for us. One is at the Building Warrant stage (when the council signs off on the drawings), one is at the completion of the structural skeleton we’ve designed and one after the lovely structural skeleton is covered up and the client moves in (the actual completion).

The phase between works starting on site and the completion of the structural skeleton is typically the most eventful for us. Someone described it as riding the bull – you need to deal with any site changes as they happen and be on call if things going wrong.

You can breathe (and sleep) again when the bull stops and you’re allowed to get off – the finishing works then start and you can really appreciate the work that’s gone in from everyone.

Want to see more from Design Engineering Workshop? Follow them on Instagram for the latest projects and updates or visit their website.

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