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How do you design a steel structure

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  • 23-03-2021
How do you design a steel structure

How Architects Design with Steel 

You will find a guide to steel structures and any design issues that may affect this page's overall steel structure. Architects use RIBA with all their design projects, a 7 step guide of the stages they must follow.

This is done after the architect has listened to the client's brief, and they should also consider steel construction at this stage. Structural steel is used as and when needed, for example, for unusually shaped buildings. 

How an Architect Reads the Client’s Brief

Firstly, it is so important to identify exactly what the client wants and the requirements, including the overall look of the building, a general idea of what the client wants to achieve with the building, a time allowance for the project, the types of materials that they want to be used and more. For example, is it a steel structure? Is it a one storey building or a multi-storey building? 

It is also important to check if planning permission is needed through the local authorities. This could change how tall the building is allowed to be, the structure's exact location, what the building is being built on, and its stability. Then, it is time to draw up the plan and check with the client for their approval.  

How do you design a steel structure?

Within the drawing process, a lot of other agreements will be made, including:

The main architectural features of the building

The overall layout and space used to make the most of the area provided

The outline of the main structure itself

The appearance of the building, looking at it from the outside 

The sources of renewable energy

The overall cost of the project

The main functions of the building, the services it will provide and how they will work

What Factors Influence Design Decisions

Factors that influence design decisions due to the type for the function of a building:

Commercial Building Sector

Once the main structure has been designed, architects will design the inside space to ensure all space is used effectively. This is called 'shell and core."

Education Sector and Commercial Sector

Many people choose a steel structure building that provides natural ventilation, as it uses solar shading and air movement, which is largely promoted. 

Factors that influence design decisions depending on the outcome of the design process:

 How much is being invested in the project, and how much income will come out of it.

 The design must involve unique architecture with techniques that make the building stand out.

 The building must provide a source of renewable energy to pass the planning permission stages. 

If space is being used as efficiently as possible, do more services need to be added to make more use out of different areas?

Planning permission could also affect the design as if your building is vertical, and this aligns someone else's building, blocking their sunlight, you may have to change this. 

Steel Construction Design Process

There are many stages to take when designing steel-framed buildings; here are the three main ones:

Concept Design

The layout of the steel components and how they will brace the structure.

Member Design

This is based on the requirements of the client and the structural analysis.

Detailed Design

This is the accurate design of the connections with the other components.

Methods of Steel Structure Design

Simple Design of Steel Structure

This is known to be the most traditional method but also the most commonly used method. No moment can be transferred from one connected member to the other; it can be assumed. The structure has some resistance to loads but can be braced to prevent this from happening if you build multi-storey buildings or concrete cores. 

The designer/architect must ensure that the connections are detailed correctly to ensure that the structure's performance won't be affected. This is why it is important to have many years of experience because knowledge is key for the details you need to match the specific criteria for simple construction site projects. 

Continuous Design of Steel Structure

The bending of beams and columns will affect the steel frame's stability, so joints must be rigid. This is much harder than a simple design, so the steel-frame needs more complex analysis, so software is commonly used. The pattern combinations must also be realistic. 

Whether the frame is plastic or elastic, the architect must choose the best design method to ensure the members have a range of different connections. For example, elastic frames must be stiff to ensure they don't move, and plastic frames must show significant strength. 

Semi-Continuous Design of Steel Structure

Now, this method is even harder than both other methods shown above. The analysis process for these connections requires the use of computer programmes. This method has been split into two more simple methods; braced, resistant to loads, and unbraced frames, resistant to bending columns and beams. 

Here are the more simplified methods:

Unbraced Frames: 

This method is known as The Wind Moment Method and uses rigid steel beams and columns so that the frame can carry loads. 

Braced Frames:

This method is known as The Semi-Continuous Design and involves the analysis of the joints to reduce bending.


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