The “Structural” journey… Finally Arrived!

Manny at work.  No distraction please, he is working on my project!

If you are reading this, you likely already know that we are building using the Passive House design standards, which comes with its unique challenges. To add to these challenges, the building will be constructed utilizing structural steel. Yes, you read it correctly – we are using structural steel as the primary structure and supporting elements. To add to that, we are planning on using steel decking topped with concrete for the floors.

With this unconventional structure, more commonly found in public/office buildings and high-rises, considering the stringent seismic requirements of Los Angeles, identifying and selecting a structural engineer was a real journey. Why, you might ask. Well, structural steel design is not as simple as wood framing design. Unlike conventional wood framing, there is no prescriptive methods in structural steel. Seismic requirements, fabrication, and inspections can quickly lead to a very expensive design and implementation, especially if little consideration is given to the details.

Structural steel design follows very strict and well-defined standards, very similar to what I find in my line of work (Aerospace) where industry and military standards are used for load requirements, design, structural margin, testing, design validation, and qualification. I quickly concluded that I needed a good structural/civil engineer.

After reaching out and meeting with several structural engineers, I am extremely pleased that I have chosen Manny Vlachos from Vlachos Engineering, Inc. as the structural engineer that will perform all of the structural analysis for our project. Given my past exposure to structural steel design (back in 2005, I studied but did not take the exam to become a registered Civil Engineer in California), and my recent in-depth review of the subject, I quickly learned that Manny is a very well experienced and versed in structural steel design. I also found in Manny a natural passion for the work he does, reflected in his enthusiasm and passion to discuss with me details of structural steel design, much more than what I encountered with the other civil engineers I met for the project. I have to be honest here: given my background and passion for engineering, I have a natural tendency to quickly immerse in technical/engineering discussions, and Manny fully entertained all of these phone conversations. All of this happened over the phone. So I decided to pay him a visit in his office in Moorpark, CA.

Manny was very accommodating to my visit. To my surprise, we spent close to two hours in the meeting and not because he wasn’t busy, on the contrary. Shortly after the personal introduction, we quickly connected after realizing that we attended UCLA at the same time while in graduate school. Although we were in different departments, I was in Aerospace/Mechanical, he was in Civil, we likely passed each other numerous times as the courses we took were in the same building, Boelter Hall. Then Manny shared his experience and travel to Italy, near Rome, my hometown, and we briefly spoke a few words in Italian. Then he showed me the various structural steel projects from his portfolio, both current and past, projecting the architectural drawings and structural details he was viewing on his computer screen on a large flat screen mounted on the wall for my easy viewing. That was really nice and effective for me, as it would be for any of his client.

We then discussed the RISA 3D commercial code which is used in the design and analysis of structural steel buildings. I am personally very familiar with these kinds of finite element analyses programs, and I am glad that Manny is using RISA 3D for my project. Although the use of the code requires extensive knowledge in structural engineering, the tool greatly simplifies many of the labors, calculations and checks required to verify the design; a tedious process that is more likely to introduce errors if performed by hand. 

In the meantime, Manny sent me a picture of the Risa 3D model his team has created, which will be used to performed the complete structural design. 

I am super excited to discuss the preliminary design, which should be ready shortly.







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