Design as an interconnected whole

Put simply, holistic engineering is an approach that sees design as an interconnected whole.  It seeks to integrate the skills and methodologies of designers from multiple disciplines into a collaborative effort for the good of the project.

Every discipline has its own priorities and concerns, but we are all connected by the project, and we must never lose sight of how our designs, decisions and changes may impact other disciplines.

Knock-on consequences of design changes

It’s vital for us all to collaborate from the start, understanding not only the visions of the client and architects but also the drivers of each engineering discipline, and how our designs impact on each other’s. Then, once the project’s underway, we must maintain the communication to ensure we understand the impact of every change we make to our designs and the challenges these may cause to other disciplines.

Rather than hiding inside our silos we should look over our walls and take a 360-degree view to consider how what we are doing will affect others. What will be the knock-on consequences of a new beam on the services, for example?  If a larger chiller plant is required, how will it affect the structural loads, and will it be too noisy? A change in the specified façade glass might affect the internal environment and thus require the input of the mechanical or electrical engineers. A bigger riser may affect the building frame or the core layout, and have impacts for the VT or the fire engineer. These are just a few examples of the impact of design changes in a multi-disciplinary project.

It’s also worth remembering that, while, of course, we all aim for optimum value for our own discipline there may be alternative solutions that may not be the cheapest for us, but bring best value for the project.

How do we adopt this holistic approach?

Communication is the key. From the start, I like to have a weekly call with the leader of each discipline involved in the project. It really helps to get into each other’s heads, understand what everyone is most passionate about and what matters most to them. If every discipline leader is committed to being holistic, this naturally leads to all our engineers on the project engaging in that approach. This in turn helps the architect and the client, because it allows them to focus on solving the building problems, not the discipline problems.

Holistic design approach for 22 Bishopsgate

22 Bishopsgate, which will be London’s second tallest tower when complete, provides an example of the benefits of a holistic approach. As structural engineers, when designing the steelwork, we were under pressure from the contractor to deliver the designs within a very tight timeframe to enable the costings to move forward. This didn’t give the MEP engineers enough time to generate their services in the developing REVIT model, so we didn’t know where to put the penetrations in the beams for the air ducts. So structures and MEP sat down together and discussed a solution that would work for us all. This was to cut a rectangular void in the beams all around the core. It was a simple, cost-free solution that had no impact on the stiffness of the structure, it provided MEP with what they required for their services, and it enabled us to release the information early enough for the contractor’s pricing requirement.

A holistic approach is client-centric

This holistic engineering approach requires the engagement of all our colleagues from all disciplines involved in a multidisciplinary project, in conversation with the architect and the client. And if they see the benefits of us all pulling together for the sake of the project, delivering solutions that are of most value, they will come back to us in the future.

In essence, a holistic engineering approach is a client-centric approach, and can be a significant differentiator between us and other companies who can offer multidiscipline services.

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