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RE: Marketing Structural Engineering Services

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Paul,
Ideally, I would agree with most of your comments, however, after twenty
something years - 13 of which are in private practice - I have not been able
to make a dent in the idea of educating other professionals. When looking
for professionals to serve them, architects and developers seem to be
willing to spend the money on those who can benefit them the most
(financially). However, when providing services for their clients, architect
and developers are more concerned with the cost than quality. I don't mean
to make a blanket statement as there are exceptions. I know, for example,
that some of you engineers on the list have long relationships with your
clients that are, in fact, professional. Cost is not an immediate issue -
the quality of the project is more important. I don't feel that this
philosophy is being taught today as those who are not on top compete on cost
before they consider quality.

Here are the problems I find:

1. The architect does not generally assume responsibility for the structural
design and cares very little about how an engineer solves the problem so
long as the architect makes very little concessions. The code controls. If
there are provisions within the code to allow for less restrictive design,
the architect expects the engineer to use it. The architect cares less about
the longevity of his design than he does about satisfying the minimum
standard of the code and making as much profit as he (or she) can on the
project. Beyond this, the architect is simply unwilling to take the time to
educate himself on the value of performance based engineering.

2. The developer and builder of spec homes - even those who are building
custom homes have an innate egotistical view of their ability to overcome
nature without having to pay an engineer to tell him how. Again, as long as
the code has provisions for compliance that are less restrictive than what
an engineer may wish to design, the propensity of the developer will be to
maximize his profit over investing in better structural elements.

3. The end owner of the building believes that everything is constructed to
the same level of safety and performance. If there is damage it is, in their
mind, because the engineer or architect failed to satisfy the requirements
of the code or because the contractor failed to build it the way the code
requires. I am not referring to obvious damage by negligence. I am, however,
referring to litigation based on an owners believe that the damage incurred
was excessive and should not have been allowed by those who designed the
structure.
In this case the owner will not believe that the code provides only a
minimum life safety standard (until the current code tries to define "major
structural damage") and will not accept that although his life is spared his
home is severely damaged.

The next issue is money. I agree with your comments that low pricing is not
the answer. I am unhappy to report that I believe in your comments so
strongly, that I have refused to compromise on my fees (which are far from
the highest in the area) and have lost a great deal of work. I am not really
hurting and am willing to sacrifice the work, but it certainly does not feel
good to have a client walk into your competition's door after you tried to
use education and quality of service to obtain his work.  The sad fact is
that the majority of clients are shoppers. Most of them are simply
uneducated on the fact that good engineering will save them money in the
long run when natural disaster strikes. They are more concerned with having
sufficient room in their budgets to purchase the accoutrements that will be
a sign of their wealth than to invest 2 or 3% of the construction cost to
improve the performance of their buildings.

Again, there are those well established firms with quality clients who
produce quality buildings and cost, although a consideration, is gladly paid
because of the reputation of developer/builder/owner/architect to provide a
quality product.  Here in the desert, there are some very good architects
who are well tied to their engineers and consultants. The majority, however,
are competing for the type of work these architects get. They don't have the
reputation and in a building boom are not likely to develop the reputation
while work goes to the lowest bidder. This is the main reason why architects
and developers are looking for price before quality.

The only way I can see to turn the trend around is to work from the end of
the chain back. The owners and occupants of buildings must be taught the
differences in buildings. I don't know how to do this with commercial and
industrial buildings as I feel the problem is not as prevalent there as with
residential. I have started working on a website - www.structururalist.net .
The goals of the site will be:

A. Attempt to educate homeowners who are looking to purchase or build. The
basic premise is that "All Homes Are Not Created Equally". The rest is
education.
B. Educate builders/contractors/framers so they understand how buildings
perform. This came from frustration on my last observation as a
thirty-something framer of a two million dollar custom home proceeded to
debase my structural engineering in front of the architect, contractor and
owner by arguing that he could have saved the owner thousands by simply
sheathing the home rather than using expensive proprietary frames that I
designed into the home. When I tried to educate all present why simply
sheathing above and below openings does not create shearwalls, the
contractor, flippantly, informed me that I was welcome to my "opinion" and
he was welcome to his own. He also prefaced his argument that he discussed
my design with other engineers in the area who believed I had gone
overboard. Since I know the local engineers, I can confidently say that he
only talked with one - who hires me to do plan check for him. This engineer
simply commented about the contractors complaints but offered no opinion
other than his high regard for my work.
C. Provide a forum for building owners to get together with professionals.
D. Provide a link to SEAINT and the work of the committees so laypersons who
care, can learn how the process works.

In other word, I intend to try and educate from the end of the line
backwards. In this time of strong lobbies who are against more regulation in
code design, the only way to force education of the trades and of architects
who "pilfer" from a consultants fee to inflate his profit is to encourage
the general public and the insurance industry to force change. The more
professionals who attempt to do with will add justification to the claims
and help the building owner be more concerned with how his money is spent on
the structure.

Dennis S. Wish, PE