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Structural Design of Buildings



EurIng Paul Smith DipHI, BEng(Hons), MSc, CEng, FCIOB, MICE, MCIHT, MCMI







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To Tracy, Harriet, George, Henry and Niamh


I would like to acknowledge and thank the following people and organisations for their contribution to this book.

Tracy P. Smith for drawing the plans, figures and illustrations. Also for her endless proofreading and tireless support and encouragement.

Mr J. and I. Richardson at Richardson’s Botanical Identifications for providing information on the close proximity of trees to foundations, and a particular thank you to James Richardson for his assistance in obtaining this information.

Amy Baker for assistance in the workplace during the compilation of this book.

Simon Coyle for assistance in producing drawings.

Tony Gwynne for his support and encouragement.

Tekla (UK) Ltd for the use of their structural engineering software packages to provide examples of structural calculations demonstrating key structural principles.

Tŷ Mawr Lime Ltd. Martin Tavener, Hydraulic Lime Mortar Application Guide.

Building Research Establishment, BRE British stone testing and assessment – stone list.

Mrs R.W. Brunskill for the use of diagrams demonstrating traditional timber frame construction.

Permission to use extracts derived from British Standards is granted by BSI. British Standards can be obtained in PDF or hardcopy formats from the BSI online shop: or by contacting BSI Customer Services for hardcopies only: tel. +44(0)2089969001; e-mail

York Press for the use of Figure 12.1, photograph of a sinkhole in Magdalen’s Close, Ripon.

About the Author

Paul Smith, BEng (Hons) Civil Engineering, MSc Engineering Management, CEng Chartered Engineer, MICE – Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, FCIOB – Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building, MCMI – Member of the Chartered Institute of Management, EurIng – Member of Fédération Européenne d’Associations Nationales d’Ingénieurs, MCIHT – Member of the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation.

Paul has worked for over 20 years in the public and private sectors, mainly on infrastructure projects. He now runs his own company, Geomex – Structural Engineers & Architectural Design Consultants, which specialises in architectural design, surveying, project management and structural design.


The intention of this publication is to embark on a journey taking the reader through a brief history of buildings, how the construction of buildings has evolved over the years and then examining in more detail the structure of buildings and their principal elements. We also examine other factors which affect the stability and structure of buildings, including ground investigations and environmental factors, and detail the materials used in their construction. Finally, we examine structural failures of buildings, their likely causes and common remedies.

This book explains some of the structural engineering principles in the design of residential dwellings and their various structural elements. Some structural theory has been included to demonstrate and reinforce understanding of the comments made. In addition, structural calculations have been included to demonstrate the key points. Diagrams and photographs add clarity.

The theoretical concepts contained in this book are equally applicable to all building structures, whether commercial, traditional or modern. To emphasise some of the issues raised, large examples such as castles and churches are used, which clearly demonstrate the building science and technology.

It must be understood from the onset that specialist structural advice should be sought before undertaking any alterations, or in the identification of structural failures and defects. This book attempts to provide some guidance on understanding the behaviour and construction of buildings, but should not be taken as an exhaustive text.

Health and Safety

It must be recognised that the building and construction industry can be a hazardous environment in which to work, and each individual has responsibility to minimise the risks to both themselves and others.

There is legislative framework which ensures that everyone involved in the commissioning of works, the design, construction and maintenance of building structures has clearly defined responsibilities for health and safety. It is essential that you are aware of your responsibilities under the legislation to reduce risks and prevent accidents. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places responsibilities on contractors, members of the public, clients and construction workers, and is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive.

The Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 (CDM) place further responsibilities on clients, contractors and designers. Under Regulation 9, a designer must not commence works in relation to a project unless the client is aware of his/her responsibilities. The responsibilities are different for commercial and domestic clients. For domestic clients, unless the designer has a written agreement, the responsibilities must be carried out by the contractor and if more than one contractor is engaged on a project then the client must appoint a principal contractor. This does not mean that the regulations do not have to be carried out, but merely places the responsibilities on another duty holder. The client always has the responsibility for ensuring all pre-construction information is available.

Commercial clients have responsibility for ensuring a construction phase plan is drawn up by the contractor, and that the principal designer prepares a health and safety file for the project. This is undertaken by another duty holder if the client is domestic.

Commercial clients also ensure that management arrangements are in place for health, safety and welfare. The regulations make it clear that clients are accountable for their decisions and the approach they have in regard to the health, safety and welfare of the project.

The client is responsible for the submission of a notice to the Health and Safety Executive subject to the responsibility being undertaken by another duty holder, and with the criteria set out below.

Projects are notifiable to the Health and Safety Executive if the construction work on a construction site is scheduled to:

  • Last longer than 30 working days and have more than 20 workers working simultaneously at any point in the project. Or
  • Exceed 500 person-days.

Works may include alterations, maintenance, construction and demolition.

The activities that are defined as domestic works require consideration as the client dictates the classification, for example works can be undertaken on a residential dwelling but if these are undertaken by a private landlord or someone engaged in property development, they would be defined as commercial activity and not domestic works because they relate to a trade or business.

Although in the case of a domestic client regulations 4(1) to (7) and 6 must be carried out by another duty holder, the client still has responsibilities under the regulations. If the domestic client fails to make the necessary appointments under regulation 5, the client’s responsibilities are then passed on to other duty holders.

Ignorance of the legislation is no protection against prosecution, and professionals have been prosecuted for not informing clients of their responsibilities under this legislation. Further information is available from the Health and Safety Executive website. Clients, contractors and designers who are in any doubt about their responsibilities are strongly advised to check with the appropriate body or seek professional advice.

Building Regulations, Listed Buildings and Planning Consent

It is also important to recognise that works undertaken on buildings may be subject to other conditions and restraints.

All works must be compliant with the Building Act 1984 and Building Regulations 2010, Local Authority Planning Conditions, Listed Building Consents and Building Regulation Approvals. These should be checked via your Local Authority before embarking on any works. Other legislation may also apply to the proposed works, such as the Wildlife and Country Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. This legislation makes it an offence to disturb certain species such as bats, and licensed ecologists are required to provide advice.

There are many factors and considerations that may affect the proposed works, and for this reason it is always wise to seek competent professional advice.