02 March 2015

Closer collaboration with architects

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One important area of professional practice is the need for better collaboration between engineers and architects.

The issue was identified following the Canterbury earthquakes, with the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission highlighting the need for early and more extensive collaboration. In its report, the Commission states: “A structural Chartered Professional Engineer should be engaged at the same time as the architect for the design of a complex building”.

In response, a working group was formed with representatives from IPENZ, the New Zealand Institute of Architects, the New Zealand Registered Architects Board, the Structural Engineering Society New Zealand, the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. They call for a cultural shift in the way engineers and architects carry out their work. This would require considerable skill and commitment from both parties, with both working together from the outset of a project and setting aside any preconceived professional attitudes.

Such a working approach is not without its challenges, as the Indian architect and urban designer Advait Sambhare notes in a chapter in Interdisciplinary Design: New Lessons from Architecture and Engineering (2012):

“The key to successful interdisciplinary collaboration is in understanding that it is not a technology but rather a psychology. Collaboration is not a process that can be codified into a set system; it is more of an attitude that needs to be inculcated in the culture of a firm. It begins with every participant acknowledging that each of the others brings something valuable to the project and that their combined intelligence is more likely to deliver positive results than working in isolated silos. This can be challenging for architects, since a culture of pride in individual authorship is deeply ingrained in the profession.”

So, how do engineers and architects incorporate a new, collaborative approach into everyday practice? The working group recommends wide-ranging tools, including:

  • Checklists to ensure specific issues are addressed at the appropriate phase during design
  • Building Information Modelling systems, used by all members of a design team, to facilitate collaboration
  • Alliances (or less formal arrangements) to encourage more informal collaboration at the conceptual stage of design
  • Continuing professional development, so that engineers can better understand architectural concepts and architects can increase their engineering (structural) knowledge.

The working group’s recommendations form the basis of the guidance note, “Improving Collaboration between Architects and Engineers