Structural Engineering

Simplifying the Complex

May 14, 2014 in Structural Engineering

Blog-OltmanJonathan Oltman,
Structural Engineer –

“Our life is frittered away by detail.  Simplify, simplify.” -Henry David Thoreau

Blog-MSCThe primary product that we produce at Martin/Martin, the construction documents, are all about the details.  We must provide drawings that define all structural building materials, member sizes, and geometry to a fraction of an inch.  Our goal is a building system that delivers an uninterrupted load path for all forces, both vertical and lateral.  The ability to make a complex problem simple is important all the way from early schematic design to the final check of the construction documents.

As a new engineer I was always impressed when an experienced engineer would intuitively know the answer to a problem that had taken me a long time to calculate.  I believe being able to quickly or instinctively come to an approximate answer comes from a combination of simplified problems, using rules of thumb, and years of experience.  Project oversight by someone with this ability is essential for a quality project.

Rules of thumb which are easy to remember can be used to quickly provide an approximate answer.  They can be helpful in a meeting where the client wants to know approximate member sizes or weights.  They can also be helpful in the field when we need to make quick recommendations, and are very important when performing project checks or verifying computer output.  Of course young engineers must have a strong basis in engineering principles, but it is also important to pass along easy methods to begin and verify designs.  Modern Steel Construction provides some handy rules of thumb for steel design in the following article: