I am attending the 2012 SEAOC-SEANM Convention in Santa Fe, New Mexico this week. I did not realize that Santa Fe is the oldest state capitol in the U.S., first inhabited by Spanish settlers in 1607, and then settled by Don Pedro de Peralta in 1609-1610. The Palace of the Governors, built in 1610, served as the main government building in Santa Fe for nearly 300 years. The current capitol building, known as the Roundhouse, is the only round state capitol building in the U.S. Our airport shuttle driver used to be a tour guide, so we learned a lot on the drive in.
The first session I attended today was a discussion of recent earthquakes. James Mwangi Ph.D, PE, Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at Cal Poly, discussed his project to develop sustainable reconstruction practices for masonry and concrete structures in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. Then Joe Maffei, Ph.D, SE, talked about lessons learned about concrete wall design from the 2010 Chile earthquake.
I don’t think it was intentional, but the juxtaposition of these two presentations was interesting to me. Two major earthquakes in the same year in countries with very different construction practices. Haiti has no real building code enforcement, limited inspection, and limited access to building materials and skilled construction workers. Chile, on the other hand, has a modern building code with concrete provisions similar to ACI 318, and skilled engineers and builders.
Listening to Dr. Mwangi and Dr. Maffei present got me thinking about what is most important in creating a safe, strong building that can survive these natural disasters. As a designer, I took code enforcement and special inspections for granted. Perhaps I shouldn’t have. I think structural engineers would agree that code enforcement, special inspections, and structural observations are critical to ensure that buildings are constructed in accordance with the plans.
When designing a building, I always spent the majority of my time putting together a complete set of drawings with clear details. Calculations were important to size members, define the loads and determine how the loads distributed. You need the details to define that load path for the contractor. Given the choice to do more calculations or draw more details – and budgets force you to make that choice on every project – I would always choose more details.
But is that how you feel? What about calculations? How do you prioritize what’s most important to you in designing a safe, strong structure? Let me know by posting a comment.
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