Spring 2022 News

Halfway through spring – according to the calendar more than the weather – the 2022 construction season is off to another fast start. This is one of the busiest times of year for Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE) and that trend continues this year. Like a lot of firms, RJDCE has a growing backlog and is experiencing delays and cost increases from outside services and vendors. The lack of available schedule “float” every week and frequent disruptions result in unpredictably long delivery times for certain services. Continue reading “Spring 2022 News”

Contract Project Assistant Wanted

Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE), a diverse structural and foundation engineering and construction risk management practice in Lebanon, New Hampshire, is seeking an independent contractor to serve as a project assistant or entry-level engineer on a project-by-project basis. The immediate need is for someone to accompany an experienced engineer to observe, measure and document existing structures in connection with structural condition assessments and forensic investigations. Depending on the contractor’s capabilities and interests, opportunities may arise to draft or proofread reports, perform or check structural engineering calculations and assist with the preparation of CAD drawings.

Desired qualifications: Two years minimum experience in the architecture/engineering/construction industry or a combination or a related degree and internship and/or professional experience. Must be proficient in speaking and writing in English, preferably with a working knowledge of building technology and construction terminology. Experience with technical writing, CAD and structural design would be ideal.

Location: New Hampshire or the Upper Valley region of Vermont. Most projects are in New Hampshire and Vermont. Contractors in other locations served by RJDCE would be considered, but travel and lodging reimbursement may not be available for most projects.

Compensation: The basis and amount of payment will vary by project.

For more information contact RJDCE.

Should a Building Blow Down During Construction?

After an unseasonably warm day, a cold front passed through the New York City metropolitan area on the evening of Monday, 06 December 2021. Along with much colder temperatures, the cold front brought high wind gusts. In Jersey City, New Jersey gusts approaching 60 miles per hour were reported.  Around 8:45 pm, the Jersey City Fire Department received a call for a building collapse with possibly trapped occupants. A four-story building under construction had partially collapsed, displacing five to ten feet off of its foundations, striking an adjacent two-story dwelling and damaging a school. At least 10 residents of adjacent buildings were displaced, some likely permanently because the damaged adjacent dwelling will reportedly be demolished. City officials believe that elements of the partially-constructed building were collapsed by high wind.

It is early in the investigation, of course, and as I have said before, it is not useful to attempt to draw conclusions immediately after a failure. Publicly available information is likely incomplete, may include imprecise or inaccurate information (there are slight discrepancies as to the time of the incident and early reporting identified the building as being three stories) and important details can get lost in the reporting process. More will be learned as the destroyed building is disassembled and removed. More yet will be learned in the course of the litigation that will inevitably follow. I do not have any answers, but I have a lot of questions. Continue reading “Should a Building Blow Down During Construction?”

Will Your Contractor Read the Drawings?

To the uninitiated, a lot of everyday building construction with wood framing and concrete foundations looks pretty similar. However, from a structural engineering design perspective, they could be quite different. Light commercial and multifamily buildings, as well as some custom homes, are more complex and subject to greater load demands and code requirements than simple one- and two-family homes built using traditional practices documented in the residential code. It is normal for the construction documents for these projects to include structural engineering drawings to communicate to the contractor how engineered structural components and systems fit together.

In the residential and light commercial construction sector, some contractors do not seem to know what to do with structural drawings. The apparent similarity of these buildings to residential construction results in certain contractors attempting to serve both market segments, without understanding how they are different. Not knowing what they are taking on, they can be less expensive than their commercial/multi-family counterparts and are more likely to secure projects with inexperienced owners. This doesn’t always end well. Continue reading “Will Your Contractor Read the Drawings?”

Happy Infrastructure Week. No, Really.

It is finally infrastructure week in America…and we can now retire the infrastructure week jokes that necessitated the rebranding of United for Infrastructure’s annual event.

Today, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a five-year, $1.2 trillion investment in the country’s transportation, electrical, telecommunications, water and wastewater facilities. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), it represents the largest such investment in almost a century. Continue reading “Happy Infrastructure Week. No, Really.”

Unfamiliar Risks Excavating Near Existing Structures

Most excavations for building and bridge foundations, utility installation, site grading and other applications are made on relatively open sites with few constraints. These excavations are usually kept stable by cutting the sides on a stable. The geotechnical design of these temporary slopes is usually nothing more than conforming to prescriptive regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which are applicable for depths of up to 20 feet.

Sloping the sides of an excavation effectively expands its footprint and site conditions may restrict the limits of the excavation on one or more sides. In developed areas, excavation limits are often restricted by property lines, utilities, contaminants, remnants of past structures and existing structures. When the depth of an excavation exceeds a nominal depth, and cutting the sides of the excavation at a safe slope is not practicable, the excavation sides must be supported structurally.

The presence of nearby existing in-service structures greatly increases the risk and technical difficulty of excavation. The most obvious example of this is excavating a basement on an urban lot with adjacent building foundations on the property lines bearing on soil above the bottom of the excavation. Underpinning of the adjacent structures is the norm in this scenario. However, nearby existing structures can present other difficulties that are less obvious and are unfamiliar to many in the construction industry.
Continue reading “Unfamiliar Risks Excavating Near Existing Structures”

Your Building Project Needs an Architect

Construction is a field with numerous specialties and specialists. As such, most construction projects require that the owner or developer assemble a team to ensure that people with the correct specialized knowledge and skill are available to complete the project. Most significant projects have two teams; one team designs the project while the other constructs it. Sometimes the lines between the design and construction teams blur, like when some portion of the design is delegated to the constructor.

For building projects, the design team is commonly assembled by the architect, while the construction team is assembled by the general contractor. Commonly, some, if not all, of the design team members are consultants to the architect. Architects know enough about the other disciplines like structural, mechanical and geotechnincal engineering, land surveying and interior design to be able to effectively engage those consultants and integrate their services into the overall design of the project. Similarly, general contractors have experience in subcontracting parts of the work that they do not self-perform and integrating the work of their subcontractors into the project. Continue reading “Your Building Project Needs an Architect”

Thinking About Structural Disasters

Image: US Dept. of Commerce, NIST

The 24 June 2021 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Florida was as horrific as it was heartbreaking. The disaster ranks among the worst unintentional structural failures in United States history, along with the Kansas City Hyatt Regency walkway collapse almost 40 years earlier and the 1922 roof collapse of the Knickerbocker Theater in Washington, DC. The building collapsed overnight and by the next day, the tragedy was widely covered by local to international news organizations seeking to deliver information to a concerned public in real-time.

The media coverage of a structural disaster is subject to a sort of “fog of war”. In the immediate aftermath, answers are hard to come by. Eye-witness and second-hand accounts, public records and other fragments of information are reported as news organizations receive them. Outside of trade and design professional publications, few media outlets have reporters specializing in construction and the built environment. As a result, reporting on structural failures is often poorly contextualized, contains misnomers and is framed by existing narratives like local government incompetence, “crumbling infrastructure” and effects of climate change, which may be more confusing than clarifying. Continue reading “Thinking About Structural Disasters”

What is Geostructural Engineering?

“Geostrucutral engineering” is a term that has become increasingly common in the specialty foundation construction community in the past 10 to 15 years. Like too many terms in architecture, engineering and construction, it does not appear to have a consensus definition and may describe different things in different contexts.

If you search for geostructural engineering on the internet you would likely find marketing of particular collections of engineering services or perhaps an internal practice within a large multi-discipline firm. Some firms use “geostructural engineering” to mean geotechnical design, especially when advanced analytical tools are used. This appears to be a response to the use of “geotechnical engineering” to mean soil sampling and testing for engineering purposes without design services or even input into the design of a project. Other firms market services to construction contractors, including design and instrumentation and monitoring as “geostructural”.

Neither usage provides a clear meaning to the moniker, which leaves a lot of ambiguity as to what comprises the practice of geostructural engineering, how it is different from its parent geotechnical and structural disciplines, or other specialties therein, and the qualifications and body of knowledge required for geostructural engineers. Continue reading “What is Geostructural Engineering?”