Asee peer logo

Learning From the "Big Box Store" - An Alternative Strategy for Teaching Structural Systems

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Architectural Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Stan Guidera Bowling Green State University

visit author page

Stan Guidera is an architect and a Professor in the Department of Architecture and Environmental Design at Bowling Green State University. He teaches design studios and computer modeling courses related to digital applications in design, design visualization, and computer animation. He has conducted workshops, published, and presented papers at national and international conferences on a variety of digital design topics including design visualization, building information modeling, parametric modeling, and integrating digital applications into the design process. He is skilled with a variety of digital modeling tools including Revit, Rhino 3D, Grasshopper, 3DS Max Design, and AutoCAD Architecture. In addition to university teaching he is an Autodesk Certified Revit Professional and provides training and consulting services.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Learning structural design concepts is an essential component in architectural education. Typically design curriculum deliver content related to structural design at the undergraduate. Many degree programs utilize a sequence that introduces theoretical concepts with a statics and strength of materials course that is then followed by an additional course or courses dedicated to structural design with wood, steel, masonry, and concrete. Historically, this content has been covered in dedicated structures courses that were at least to some extent independent of other key design components of the curriculum.

Such a strategy does not support the recent shift among the accrediting bodies for professional education in architecture and architectural engineering. The criteria relating to structural design are increasingly emphasizing outcomes focusing on structural systems in support of a more holistic understanding of the functional as well as the aesthetic role of structure in building design. Many curricula have attempted to meet this learning outcome by requiring a more robust integration of structures with design studio projects. However, given the diverse demands that a comprehensive studio project places on the knowledge and skill sets of even upper level students, the semester-long time frame for the course is typically insufficient for any in-depth exploration of structural systems.

Faculty in the Department of Architecture at ______________ investigated an alternative strategy for delivering structural systems content that re-considered the format of the stand-alone course model. The conventional lecture format was replaced with a case-study methodology that utilized existing big-box stores, all from the same retail chain, as a “real-world” laboratory. This provided a format for students to document and analyze an existing structural system in the context of actual gravity and environmental load conditions.

This approach took advantage of several key characteristics of the big-box building type: 1. Fixed real-world locations allowing students to collect and ultimately utilize data related to soils, wind loads, and seismic design requirements; 2. A clear yet uncomplicated relationship between the structural systems and the building envelope; 3. Exposed structural systems that were visible and could easily be documented for analysis; 4. A structural system that, while composed of multiple structural element types, was simple enough to allow for in-depth study and analysis of the members and associated connections and bearing conditions in the time frame of a semester-long course.

Building upon the content covered in their pre-requisite structural theory course, students utilized a combination of field measurements, data related to the properties of common steel shapes, and site-specific environmental loads to determine the actual structural members that were used in the big-box store’s structural system. This “reverse-engineering” approach enabled the students to apply their developing structural design skills and their knowledge related to building materials to make informed judgements in identifying a wide range of system components including bar joists, girders, and structural decking.

This paper documents the rationale for the course strategy, the associated learning objectives, the organization of the assignments, and the outcomes of the course. The results of the effectiveness of the strategy is discussed in the context of the final assessment of the students.

Guidera, S. (2016, June), Learning From the "Big Box Store" - An Alternative Strategy for Teaching Structural Systems Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25539

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015