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Get The Form Right!

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Structure and Form in Architectural Engineering Education

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

15.616.1 - 15.616.10



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Paper Authors

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Robert Dermody Roger Williams University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Get the Form Right! Teaching Structures in a Design Studio


Teaching structural design concepts to architecture students in a studio setting is a powerful way to educate future architects about designing efficient, exciting forms for building structures. The key to good structural design is to get the form right. The brilliant Uruguayan engineer, Eladio Dieste phrased it best: “There is nothing more noble and elegant from an intellectual viewpoint than this: to resist through form.” This paper describes an advanced undergraduate architectural design studio focused on the design of efficient, elegant, expressive long-span structures. Examples of student design solutions for various projects are shown and explained. An assessment of the benefits of teaching structures in a studio is presented. The studio projects demonstrate that structure is an important determinant of architectural form. Form should follow force, and not merely function.


Technology is design. Technical concepts, especially in architecture curricula, should be taught as design. However, structures courses in most architecture programs have long relied on calculation based problem sets as their primary pedagogy. This approach is unrealistic and does a disservice to students. It does not accurately represent the limited role that calculations play in developing forms for building structures. Numerical problem sets reinforce the notion that structural design is all about number crunching. In their studio courses, students are challenged to create beautiful spaces in response to practical programs on real sites. In their structures courses, they are often force-fed calculation methods for individual structural elements. There is no commonality between the two courses, as a result of which they seldom relate in a meaningful way.

An informal review of architecture programs across the U.S. reveals that most schools require between two and four “structures” courses. These are most often given in a lecture/problem solving format. The most common topics covered include statics, strength of materials, wood, steel and concrete. When a curriculum is organized in this fashion, it is quite common to rely on traditional textbooks which are often written for engineering students, and “problem set” style homework assignments. This approach concentrates almost exclusively on a minor part of the structural design process that is usually performed by structural engineers and almost never by architects. It largely ignores those parts of the process in which architects are usually active. This suggests that the teaching of structural design to architects should be re-oriented away from calculations toward selecting and configuring structural systems.

It is never too early to teach structural concepts within the context of architectural design. In a curriculum that teaches structures as design, even beginning architecture students can gain a better appreciation of the implications of spatial design on the corresponding structural system requirements. In the design studio, students should be challenged to design structures by determining ideal forms that satisfy both programmatic and loading requirements. Technical design problems allow students opportunities to use structure as a determinant of architectural form. Simple first order calculations to determine member sizes can confirm proposed structural

Dermody, R. (2010, June), Get The Form Right! Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16459

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