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Structural Design: A Literature Review

Armando Esquivel
University of Texas at El Paso


When the safety of the people is at stake, society should be aware of the practices
that a civil engineer uses in order to protect the public. The civil engineer should have a
clear procedure in designing a structure and such procedure should be followed in order to
ensure society from a collapsing structure. Furthermore, the civil engineer should be able to
prove that he or she knows about the mechanical properties of a material. In other words,
the civil engineer should know at what point the material being used is going to collapse
and the civil engineer should make that information available to the people. Also, in order
to protect the people from any form of unethical behavior, the civil engineer should
familiarize with structural and building codes that provide aid for the civil engineer to
design loads and they also serve to use certain material. Finally, the civil engineer should
know the different approaches used in designing a structure and the civil engineer should
select the one which possesses less risk to the safety of the people.


The practice of Civil Engineer requires that a person in charge of a project must
create a structure whose serviceability is long and effective, but it also requires that the
safety of the people that is in contact, directly or indirectly, with the structure is safe. In
other words, the work of a civil engineer is to create a structure, in certain time range and
with a given budget, that will not fail and that it would not produce any kind of injuries or
death. In order to understand thoroughly how such structure are constructed, the people
should know how a civil engineering goes about the designing process of a structure. More
over people should know the answer to the following questions:

Is there a procedure for designing a structure?

What are the principal characteristics that the civil engineer needs to take into

account in order to design a structure?

Are there limitations/aids that a civil engineer encounters while designing a

Is there any general approach to whether a civil engineer uses a structure?

The answers to these questions are crucial to understand the designing process because they
offers a scope of whether a civil engineer has or has not the privilege of choosing a
designing procedure. The answers to the questions also states clearly the factors that affect
the designing process and whether or not is there a limit to those factors. In essence, the
practice of Civil Engineer is to protect the environment, including humans, but to know
what are the means that a civil engineer uses to protect the environment is left for the
people to investigate and judge whether such practice is effective or if it needs
Is there a procedure for designing a structure?


Structural design is no different than any other practice, meaning that structural
design does have a general procedure. According to Bresler and Lin, the designing of a
structure is composed of five steps: (a) selection of type of structure, (b) determination of
loads, (c) internal forces and moments, (d) proportion of members and connections and (e)
performance under service conditions (p. 8, 1963.) A person with a basic knowledge of
scientific procedures and mechanics could see that the designing process is divided into two
groups the analysis and the design. In other words steps (a) through (c) is referred to the
analysis of a structure, or how does the structure behaves under the assumed loading, next
is the design of members and connections that obviously is part of the design process, and
then it goes to step (e) which is again the analysis of the structure, but this time around is
analyzed with the given dimensions of the members and connections plus the structure is
already in use. According to Blockley, the design process is divided into four steps, which
are: 1) find what the client really wants, 2) select the overall structural form, 3) detail
design decisions, and 4) successful use of the structure throughout its life (pp. 34-37, 1980.)
It can be mistaken that the procedure given by Blockley and by Bresler and Lin differs a
lot, but in reality both procedure are essentially the same, except that Blockley added a step
(step 1) previous to the analysis of a structure. One can interpret that Blockley step 2 is just
as step (a) from Bresler and Lin, since both inquires that a structure must be selected. It also
can be seen that step 3 from Blockley is essentially steps (b) through (d) from Bresler and
Lin, since in both design processes, detail decisions, based on the analysis and design of the
structure, must be made. And lastly step 4 from Blockley and step (e) from Bresler and Lin
are the same. From these two design processes it can be seen that structural design does
have a one general design process. This general design process can then be seen as a way to
protect the people since it shows that the structural design is a systematic process in which


analysis of a structure, prior to design, is done first in order to understand how a structure
will behave under certain loading conditions.
What are the principal characteristics that the civil engineer needs to take into
account in order to design a structure?
A civil engineer must know the load capacity that a structural members must have in
order to design a stable structure. According to Gere the design of machines and structure
so that they will function properly requires that we understand the mechanical behavior of
the material being used (pp. 10). In other words, the load capacity of a structural member
is based upon the mechanical behavior, or mechanical properties, of the material. The
mechanical properties of a material are taken directly from the stress-strain diagram (figure

Figure 1 Stress-Strain diagram. (2013). [Diagram that correlates stress

and strain.] Linear vs. non-linear. Retrieved from


From Figure 1 we can see two regions, namely the elastic region and the plastic region. A
civil engineer must understand that a structural member behaves linearly during the elastic
region. In other words, the change in strain is proportional to the change in stress. The slope
of the line in the elastic region, that is the change in stress over the change in strain, is
called the modulus of elasticity that represents the stiffness of the material. (Hibbeler, 2011,
p. 91). A civil engineer must understand that if a structural member is loaded and unloaded
within the elastic region of the material, then the strain, also known as the deformation, of
the member will increase when it is being loaded and it will return to its original length
when it is unloaded. The civil engineer next must understand what happens if a structural
member is loaded so that its stress crosses to the plastic region. On the plastic region the
member would have permanent deformation even if the load is taken off from it. There are
two important stresses that should be pay particular attention to: the yield stress and the
ultimate stress. The yield stress is the stress in which the material changes from an elastic
behavior to a plastic behavior and the ultimate stress is the greatest stress that a material
will sustain until it fractures completely. One should be aware that different materials have
a different stress-strain diagram, for example steel has a completely different stress-strain
diagram than concrete. The stress-strain diagram is helpful in order to identify the elasticity
and plasticity of a material and it also points out the yielding stress and ultimate stress, but
it also can be used to categorize the different kinds of materials that a civil engineer can
use. There are two main materials that civil engineers use: ductile and brittle materials.
According to Hibbeler ductile materials can be subjected to large strain before it fractures
(2011, p.87), which means that the member will elongate (or contract, depending on how
the load is applied) far enough its actual size and then it will fracture. On the other hand
brittle materials exhibit little or no yielding before failure (Hibbeler, 2011, p. 89), which


means that the material would most likely fracture before one notices its deformation. In
conclusion, a civil engineer must know the classification of the material being used,
whether ductile or brittle, and it also must know its elastic and plastic region and what are
its yield and ultimate stresses.
Are there limitations/aids that a civil engineer encounters while designing a structure?
In a way society imposes limitations on civil engineers on how to build or design a
structure, such as codes, standards and manual. These limitations, however, are not all of a
burden since codes, standards and manuals helps the civil engineer in designing a structure
that is stable and safe for the people and at times it helps civil engineers to select the
appropriate material for it. As we can see from the Steel Construction Manual of the
American Institute of Steel Construction (2011):

The Institutes objective is to make structural steel the material of choice, by being
the leader in structural-steel-related technical and market building activities,
including specification and code development, research, education, technical
assistance, quality certification, standardization and market development. (p vii)

That the manual helps the civil engineer with specifications about designing a structure
when using structural members composed of steel. Leet, Uang, and Gilbert (2011) explain
that the purpose of codes is to produce safe, economical structures so that the public will
be protected from poor or inadequate design construction (p. 27), which helps to guide the
civil engineer into the road of a safe structures. There exist two types of codes within the
civil engineering community: the structural code and the building code. Structural code is
written by engineers and other specialists who are concerned with the design of a particular


class of structure (Leet et al., 2011, p. 27), and the building code is establish to cover
construction in a given region (often a city or a state) (Leet et al., 2011, p.27). It can be
seen that the use of codes, whether structural or building, helps the engineer to protect the
public since impose regulations that a civil engineer must follow in order to protect society.
Is there any general approach to whether a civil engineer designs a structure?
As mentioned before, civil engineering is no different than any other practice. Thus, the
design engineer has two options of how to design a structure. These two general approaches
are called the allowable strength design and the ultimate strength design. On the allowable
strength design, also known as the elastic design, Leelataviwat, Goel and Chao (2012)
explain that structures behave linearly elastic. Design loads and required internal forces in
the structural element are determined (p.2). In other words, when a civil engineer uses the
allowable stress design, the civil engineer determines the yield stress and uses it to design
the structure adding a factor of safety that prevents the structure from collapsing.
Leelataviwat et al.(2012) also explains that Plastic design utilizes the reserve strength
beyond the elastic limit due to the redistribution of internal forces (p. 7). In addition to it
on the Plastic Analysis (2000) the Ultimate load is regarded as the design criterion (p. 1).
After determining the loads used by the Ultimate strength design the loads are multiplied by
factors that can be found in codes and regulations, within the civil engineering community,
in order to increase the strength and stability of the structure. Even though the allowable
strength design and the ultimate strength design differ in selecting the stress that controls
the design of the structure, the concept of stability and safety are maintained by both
philosophies of design and thus protecting the environment from a collapsing structure.


Civil Engineer is a practice that requires that the people who practice it secure the
welfare of the people. It is seen that the civil engineer follows a general procedure in which
the society can be certain that a civil engineer protects or not the welfare of the people.
Furthermore, the civil engineer should know the mechanical properties of the material
being used, which constitutes to the main characteristics that a civil engineer should look
up in order to create a structure for a certain material. Also the civil engineer should be
aware that codes and manuals are available in order to aid in the construction and design of
a structure. And finally the civil engineer must select the appropriate approach to design a
structure, whether it be plastic or elastic, and it should get acquainted to it so that the safety
of the people is maintained.




American Institute of Steel Construction. (2011). Foreword in Steel Construction Manual

14th edition. vii.
Blockley, D. I. (1980). The Nature of Structural Design and Safety. 34-37.
Bresler, B., & Lin, T. Y. (1963) Design of Steel Structures. 8-11. (2013). Linear vs. non-linear. Retrieved from
Gere, James M. (2004) Chapter 1 tension, compression and shear: Section 3 mechanical
properties of materials. Mechanics of Materials 6th edition. 10 -16.
Hibbeler, R.C. (2011). Chapter 3 mechanical properties of materials: section 3 stress-strain
behavior of ductile and brittle materials. Mechanics of Materials 8th edition. 87-89.
Leelativiwat, Sutat, Goel, Subbhash C., and Chao, Shih-Ho. (2012) Plastic versus elastic
design of steel structure. Structural Engineering and Geomechanics. 2-7
Leet, Kenneth M., Uang, Chia-Ming, and Gilbert, Anne M. (2011) Chapter 2 design loads:
section 1 building and design code. Structural Analysis 4th edition. 27-28
Plastic Analysis. (2000). Plastic Analysis: 1.0 Introduction. Plastic Analysis. 1