by Scott Erricson
Life sciences is an attractive sector for structural engineers. The projects are well-funded and the design and construction teams tend to deliver high-quality, well-coordinated work. For structural engineers who enjoy working with steel, these are dream projects.
For all the advantages, life sciences projects also come with high expectations which structural engineering consultants must meet and exceed. This type of work is fast-paced because there is a near-immediate demand for the building owner’s products and services. For this reason, structural engineers offering services in this sector need to be comfortable with diverse project approaches and be well-versed in varying materials which can be swapped out to accommodate changing lead times and construction schedules. Here are some considerations for structural design in the life sciences sector:
In our experience, design-build is the most successful project delivery method for life sciences projects. When the design and construction teams work together from the start and where real-time design, constructability, and financial information is available, magic can happen. For this project delivery method to be successful, however, structural engineers must be capable of design flexibility and nimble responses to frequent changes.
Coordination is essential for any successful project, but with the speed and high-performance requirements of life sciences projects, it becomes even more important. Especially on design-build teams, where information about all trades can be flying around at any time, the structural engineer must pay close attention to changing architectural and MEP designs. To aid these efforts and cut down on loss of time due to model transfers, e2 works with BIM360, a cloud-based coordination software.
Structural steel, steel bar joists, cold-formed metal framing, cast-in-place concrete, and tilt-up concrete: These are the materials we use most often on life science projects. Most structural engineers can work with these materials, but the ability to quickly adjust designs and structural drawings to accommodate lead times and schedules is essential when working in this sector.
Last but not least is the fact that not all life science projects are ground-up new construction. We are frequently called upon to upgrade existing buildings using vertical and horizontal additions, interior mezzanines, or gravity and lateral improvements for increased loadings. It’s always more complicated to structurally upgrade an existing building versus building new, but that does not mean that the expectations for efficient and accurate structural design do not still have to be met.
Scott Erricson is a principal and founder of e2 engineers.