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Struggling in understanding structural drawings

Struggling in understanding structural drawings

Struggling in understanding structural drawings

I started my career as a junior structural engineer in a design firm and it has been 16 months now working here. During my third year of bachelor's, subjects related to structural engineering interested me most and that's when I realized that I want to be a structural engineer. Fast forward now, my work progress is pretty good as far as the theoretical aspect (structural analysis) of structural design is concerned. But I have started to realize that I struggle a lot in visualizing structures or let's say understanding structural drawings or architect plans. Also, I have relatively no idea what are the construction practices in our construction industry. Due to this, many times I have thought of switching to academia, but I don't want to. Sometimes, I think of working as a site engineer to understand construction practices but this is not feasible right now.
Therefore, kindly help me out as to how should I deal with this? How should I improve reinforcement and steel detailing, and visualizing structural drawings in general? Any sort of help is appreciated.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

Hi Usman3301

Well really you have barely started your career, I would say you need to give it time and continuously ask questions of the engineers around you, it takes years to gain the knowledge and experience to fully understand all of the different aspects of any engineering job, in fact you never stop learning. So keep asking questions and remember the only stupid question is “the question you don’t ask”

“Do not worry about your problems with mathematics, I assure you mine are far greater.” Albert Einstein

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

Agree with DesertFox's comments. To be blunt, don't go into academia. We don't need more academics who don't understand the entirety of the design/construction process.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

I've come across some pretty simple yet helpful animations on various construction techniques on Youtube.

For example

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

What kind of projects are you working on? Houses? Apartments? Office buildings? What size? What materials? If you're working on massive projects that take 2 years to complete, I can understand your position. If you're doing smaller projects with a 3-8 week turnaround, then you need to get out more. Are your projects located in your area, or are you working on projects that are further away? If they're nearby, get out of the office and inspect the structures as they build them. Watch the contractors and see for yourself how they come together. It's best if you can go with a mid or senior level engineer to give you commentary and explain what you're seeing.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

Quote (...But I have started to realize that I struggle a lot in visualizing structures or let's say understanding structural drawings or architect plans. Also, I have relatively no idea what are the construction practices in our construction industry.)

- Regarding structural drawings and detailing, there are some reference books ..I will suggest you to study

-Manual for Detailing Reinforced Concrete Structures to EC2 (Jose Calavera)
- Structural Detailing in Concrete A Comparative Study of British, European, and American Codes of Practice, ( by M Y H Bangash)
- Structural detailing in steel _ a comparative study of British, European and American codes and practices ( by Bangash )..

- A good designer should know the construction practices and local methods. You must improve yourself for the methods, common mistakes, etc.. I will suggest you to look
- Failures in Concrete Structures Case Studies in Reinforced-and-Prestressed Concrete modelling issues
- Failure Case Studies in Civil Engineering_ Structures, Foundations, and the Geoenvironment-ASCE
- Beyond Failure - Forensic Case Studies for Civil Engineers (ASCE) (2009)

And IMO, the most important advise; STAY HUNGRY STAY FOOLISH (steve jobs )

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings


Quote (desertfox)

Thanks for the advice. I really appreciate what you said.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings


Quote (trenno)

For now, I'll definitely be watching these videos and learn from them. Thanks for the recommendation.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings


Quote (What kind of projects are you working on? Houses? Apartments? Office buildings? What size? What materials? )

We do all these projects you just mentioned. Currently, we are working on two high-rise buildings, one having a sky bridge and the other is 20 story building. Before these, I worked on a school building and an embassy. We mostly deal with concrete buildings.
All though I have done Bsc, my interest in seismic analysis helped me to get involved in these projects. My input is limited to basic seismic calculations and finite modeling as instructed by my senior. I often compare my manual calculations with FEA results to see if there's anything wrong. Detailing layout is done by seniors and I am surprised how easy it is for them to do detailing with ease. My Boss has a great eye for detailing, he sketches these amazing sections and layouts which take me some time to understand.
Although one of these high-rise buildings is in close proximity, we don't get to visit construction site so often. Same is the case with other projects completed in the past. My boss manages these projects directly and we are only supposed to work in the office and complete the projects on hand. Saturday is a half-day as well, therefore it's not possible to visit any close by construction sites independently, and this sometimes bugs me.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings


Quote (Regarding structural drawings and detailing, there are some reference books)

Thanks a lot for these recommendations. I looked into "Manual for detailing Reinforced Concrete Structures to EC2" and found it very useful. Your recommendations is exactly what I was looking for. I'll try to study these drawings and I am quite hopeful that with time, I'll be able to overcome this issue I am currently facing.
What helps me most from everyone's comments is the suggestion that I need to be patient in this. Now, I am a bit relaxed and interested in learning more about this beautiful subject.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

Well…, you become the boss because, or when you can, do design and detailing relatively quickly, you know what you need and want, and you’ve probably seen that condition or problem hundreds of times before, and do know what it should look like, and approx. what its proportions and rebar should be. You’re 6, 8 or 10 years away from that, be patient. Ask your senior engineers and/or boss if they will mentor you a little more (more carefully, more slowly) because you are really anxious to learn and progress. Ask you boss questions when he is drawing that quick detail which is simple to him, but relatively new to you. I remember that same situation when I first started working, and my thought was ‘how the hell did he know that by just looking at the plans, I’ve spent the last hour trying to figure that out.’ They should know that you won’t know much other than basic book-learnin fresh out of school, and they should want to help you if you show a genuine interest in learning. That helps you and the company. Be a good listener, you shouldn’t have to ask the same question more than once, or it appears that you are not paying attention. You may ask for further explanation to refine your understanding of the situation or a particular part of the detail, but not the same basic question. Come to any interaction with well formed and thought out and thoughtful questions, and maybe several possible solutions of your own making. This shows you are trying to understand and at the same time allows the boss to see how much you know and are understanding about what he is teaching. Take a complete set of old plans home to study; how does the structural layout dictate this or that detail and design/analysis approach. How do the Arch. plans dictate what you do, and how do the two fit together, without conflicting. And, someday you will even have the balls to tell the Arch. if you want this, you can’t have that, and give a good explanation of why that won’t work. Study why this detail is shown at this point on the Struct. plans, why the change in detail, caused by Struct. or Arch. requirements, over what extent is this detail required? It is a long term growing and learning process, and you will have to give some of your own time to show that you are interested and willing to advance, and not just to settle in forever, as a CAD or analysis software jockey.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings


Being able to conceptualize 3D structures on 2D plans or vice versa is tied to your spatial awareness ability. Some are better at it than others. But it also takes time to hone this skill.... Years even. I always tell non-Engineers that Structural Engineering is as much an art as it is a science. Detailing and generating design ideas is also something that needs to be developed. Detailing is the most artistic side of Engineering and is your own personal signature on a design. Reading a well thought out cleanly detailed set of drawings is like reading a great novel. A poorly thrown together set of plans with little to no thought for the layout or the efficiency of the details is painful to read and ends up triggering lots of RFI's.

Give it time. These skills will come.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

I had similar issues when I started out and I found that the single most effective thing to do is to draw and sketch as much as possible.

Sketching is more about communication than drawing. Your ability to understand drawings will grow as you become the one who has to create meaningful sketches. You understand what is in context, what's missing and what's important.

Practice as much as possible. Just use pen and paper. Start by re-sketching the drawings that give you headaches. I would expect your understanding to improve a lot, and it won't take that long.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

Usman, it’s normal when starting out to be in awe of the senior engineer’s abilities.

In time you will acquire those routine skills, and move on to being in awe of bigger things.

How far you take it all is up to you.

I would recommend going to building sites to see how it works. The reality of construction is quite different to textbooks. It’s often much cruder. A lot messier.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

Ron, if we don't have more academics without practical experience, who is going to rewrite ASCE 7 every ten years?

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

Recognise your skills and recognise your limitations.

It sounds like you are not a visually orientate person. Sure you could improve, but generally speaking it sounds like it is just not you strength. However give you have studied, worked and most importantly ENJOYED your work I'm sure you must have other compensating skills that have carried you this far.

I'm partially the opposite. I grew up thinking and being told that I was really good at mathematics. But it has taken me decades to figure out that really I'm just 'OK'. But my ability to visualise and understand the problem and answer carried me all the way through an undergraduate mathematics degree.

My point is that work out what your strengths and interests are. If visualisation isn't a strength then certain areas of engineering likely won't come as easily. However there are others that you might enjoy and not be hindered by your lower ability to visualise.

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

@canwesteng...lol exactly right! (but they do it every 5 years since they have nothing better to do.)

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

You need to get outside more and on construction sites. I was lucky, grew up doing construction, when it came time to design things it was easy. Too many engineers are book smart but lack field experience. Your employer should be encouraging you to see things first hand, if not then you should bring it up. Being less than 2 years into your career you have a lot to learn, it doesn’t happen overnight. Good luck!

RE: Struggling in understanding structural drawings

Get to site as much as you can with a set of architecturals and structurals printed out. It's the best way to learn how things are done.

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