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AISC Seminar/ Does the Client really want a cheaper steel frame?

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AISC  has sent out announcements for a seminar entitled "Essentials of
Steel Design Economy".  One of  the listed course benefits listed is "The
course also shows you when increasing steel weight you can actually reduce

Although it can be cheaper to use more steel, my experience is that  this
is not the way to satisfy the Owner.  Owners/Architects typically establish
the construction estimate with the assistance of a professional estimator, 
and as long as the Contractor will agree to build the project for that
price or less everybody is happy. 

 In my experience professional estimators are either not sophisticated
enough to take into account the cost of details or for other reasons base
their estimate on an average cost per ton. Remember the fabricator is
typically not involved in estimating the costs at the SD, DD, or CD stages.
  The end result is that if you follow AISC's advice you will produce a
heavier building and in the eyes of the Architect and Owner a more
expensive building.  You may make the point that it is actually cheaper to
design a  slightly heavier structure but the estimate for this "cheaper"
frame will come back higher and you will be criticized.  Because we want a
satisfied client it is often easier to design to minimize the weight
because this is what they believe is important.  

In spite of this we should still try to give the client a more cost
effective building but the point being that you can only do so much to
educate the client.   If in spite of our efforts the client still believes
lighter is cheaper then as businessmen we must give the client what he
believes he wants.

If the project budget is high enough or if there is some reason why the
steel weight will be higher than normal, you can sometimes get away with
designing the "cheaper" structure although the estimates will not recognize
the lower cost per pound.  In this way we can give the owner what he really

I suggest that if AISC really wants to make steel more competitive with
respect to other materials they should be working with the professional
estimators so that the estimates reflect the actual fabricated costs.  Once
this is in place there should be an outreach program to educate architects
and developers since a number of then work with rules of thumb as to how
many pounds of steel there should be per square foot.  These target weights
create perceptions that can influence client satisfaction as much as and
sometimes more than the estimated price.

Once the estimators, architects and owners are educated the engineers will
modify their designs to reflect the new perception.

Another manifestation of this problem occurs when a structural system has
been established but in order to bring money out of the project some of the
members have been made lighter.  The savings sould be computed based only
on the cost of the material saved (approx $.30 per pound) as opposed to the
higher unit price used to estimate the cost of the frame.  Unless you
change the number of members or the complexity of the detailing the lighter
member is not any cheaper to detail, fabricate, or erecet thus to use the
larger unit price would over estimate the savings.

I would be interested in other examples where the the market encourages an
end result at odds with what is supposedly desired.

Mark Gilligan