Consulting Engineer Magazine Cover Article

February 1958

Cover Image

MILO S. KETCHUM, senior partner in the firm of Ketchum & Konkel, structural engineers, of Denver, Colorado, is best known for his thin shell concrete designs. He is recognized not only in this country but abroad as among the foremost of the small group of engineers who fully understand and appreciate this type of construction. His firm has done the structural engineering for thin shell industrial plants, commercial buildings, shopping centers, schools, clubs, and hotels.

The firm was founded by Ketchum in 1945, with E. Vernon Konkel becoming a partner in 1954. At present there is a staff of 18 engineers in addition to the principals. Since the firm's inception, more than 1600 projects have been completed, ranging from one hour consultation to complete structural plans for multimillion dollar projects.

Milo Ketchum, born in Denver, got his bachelors and masters degrees in civil engineering from the University of Illinois where his father was Dean of Engineering. Ketchum, himself, taught at Case School of Applied Science, Cleveland, Ohio, from 1937 until 1943, leaving that school to join a firm in private practice in Marion, Ohio. Then, two years later, he opened his own office, in Denver.

During this period he has taken time from his practice to study and write, which effort has resulted in many magazine articles and a book, Handbook of Standard Structural Details for Buildings. He says, "The reason one writes is not because one knows everything about a subject, but because one wants to learn, and writing is the best way to accomplish this."

Architect - Structural Engineer Relations

Milo Ketchum is a conscientious student of the problems involved in the architect-structural engineer relationship.

"The structural engineer is in a position different from that of other engineers who have architects for clients. For example, the great majority of architects do not employ mechanical or electrical engineers in their own offices. They generally are willing to engage outside firms of mechanical or electrical engineers to handle the design and specification of equipment, but many feel that the work of the structural engineer is so closely related to architecture that it should be handled in their own offices. It is not at all uncommon to find a structural engineer working as an employee in an architect's office. He is not infrequently referred to as a 'beam sizer.' As a result, we find that while most mechanical and electrical engineers are competing against each other for work, the consulting structural engineers are competing largely against engineers in their clients' own offices.

"Good architects are getting over the notion that they must leave the owner with the idea that they do the whole job. They now are willing to admit - perhaps brag - about their use of good mechanical and electrical engineers on their projects. But even today, all too many architects hide their structural engineers. Perhaps they are afraid owners might think they had nothing to do if they confessed that an outside engineer did the structural design.

"This would suggest that most owners and even a few architects do not know the difference between architecture and structural engineering. It is going to have to be understood that the architect is a creator of form, an artist, an esthete who understands form and the function of space and provides the over-all coordination. The structural engineer must take the architect's initial concept, must assist him in selecting a suitable structure, and then he must apply to it the laws of structural mechanics, changing an esthetic idea into a stable design - described in drawings the contractor can read.

"Let's take a practical example. An architect is asked to design an auditorium. His final concept takes form as a structure shaped like half a pear that has been split through the stem. He has decided that this is a functional shape, that this will best suit requirements of form and space. With this the architect now has completed the general architectural design, and the owner has no logical reason to think that the man who was able to conceive of this form also must be able to calculate the position and size of the structural steel or specify the thickness and reinforcing of the concrete. The world is not full of men both talented as artists and skilled in the computation of problems in static mechanics and strength of materials. Two different types of minds and two different types of training and experience are required. It should not be hard to explain this to an owner.

"Structural engineers in private practice have an additional problem. They must compete with the employee engineer in the architect's office. Therefore, it is imperative that they do a much better job from all points of view.

"Our work must be outstandingly excellent so that the architect who uses our service can have no doubt but that they are thereby best serving their clients and saving themselves money. A good structural firm need not find it difficult to convince an intelligent architect. When an architect hires his own engineer on an employee basis, he has no way to be sure of the quality of the work his employee turns out. Furthermore, the average architectural office could not afford to hire more than one or at the most two structural engineers, and it is likely that they would employ men willing to work for average engineer salaries.

Ambitious young engineers may not want to work for an architectural firm because of the difficulty of using such experience as qualification for registration. If they pay $8000 a year to their employee engineer, they are going to get $8000 work and experience. They can expect no more.

On the other hand, if they go to a firm of consulting structural engineers, they can get engineering done by men who may earn as much each year as the architect himself. In fact, the structural firm might have an engineering payroll of several hundred thousand dollars a year, and the architect who used this firm would get the benefit of all this talent and experience.

"There are other good reasons for using a firm of structural engineers. The work in an architectural office is seldom steady. An architect may have ten jobs in his office and a month later he may have ten times - or one-tenth - that many. If he has an employee structural engineer, the man will have more than he can possibly do part of the year and nearly nothing to do for the rest. Obviously, this is more expensive than calling upon a structural consultant and paying him in accordance with the work assigned him. With our 18 men, for example, we can put as many as we need onto any job and get it out on schedule. No architect could match that with the one or two engineers he might have in his own office. Then, too, we work with many architects on many types of jobs, and our range of experience is bound to be much greater than that of an employee confined to one office and restricted to association with one architect - his boss.

"Architects (and their clients) need not worry about architects not having enough to do. Not only is the creation of a design concept a major job in itself, but the architect is expected to act as the coordinator of all the other professions on many types of work. On commercial buildings, schools, churches, institutions, and almost all building projects except heavy industrial, the architect is usually the professional man dealing directly with the owner.

He must bring the structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers together and see to it that they coordinate their efforts and fit all into his spatial and form concept. Most architects have ability to do that phase of the job.

"Unfortunately, too many architects seem to think that they have been hired to keep their clients away from the engineers. They act as ambassadors, or messenger boys, depending upon the way you look at it, when they should be bringing all parties together. Not being engineers themselves, they often have a hard time trying to explain the engineers' ideas to the client. If they would bring the engineers and the clients together early in the planning, they could save time and money and get the client something closer to what he wants.

"While it is right that the architect should be in charge of projects that are predominantly architectural in nature, it is wrong for architects to try to handle general supervision of engineering undertakings. For example, it is silly for the architect to be the prime professional on a new generating station. This should have a mechanical or electrical engineer in charge, and the architect should be under him. There are many instances in which the structural engineer should be the prime professional - on a project for erection of tanks, bins, or elevators, for example. It seems logical to us that the prime professional in every instance should be the man representing the profession spending most of the money on the job.

"This would mean that on many industrial buildings the mechanical or the electrical engineer would be in general charge. On some industrial buildings, particularly warehouses or other buildings of that nature, the structural engineer would be in charge, and on all other buildings, the architect would be the coordinator of the professions.

Nothing could be less logical than to have a structure involving 10 percent architectural costs and 90 percent engineering, designed and built under the supervision of an architect. I also would agree that no engineer should try to control a job that is architectural in nature. Few architects, however, have this point of view and may resent the structural engineer who entertains such notions.

"The engineer should not try to handle alone all the problems of engineer-arcbitect relations. If the engineer 'doth protest too much,' he may find himself without clients.

The difficult problems in engineer-architect relations are best handled by organized bodies from both professions-the AIA for the architects, and engineer associations for the engineers. That is one of the reasons we started the Structural Engineers Association of Colorado here five years ago. We did not, at first, have mechanical or electrical engineers in our group because we felt that our principal problems were somewhat different from theirs, and we had a certain amount of housecleaning to do ourselves.

"This association has since its inception adopted some policies which I consider to be very wise. Our dues are a minimum (two dollars if you miss a meeting). All the structural engineers are invited to belong no matter how long they have been in business. We discuss fees but do not have a fee schedule. We recognize that an engineer starting out by himself must cut his fees, but once he starts hiring employees he will charge normal fees.

"Later a group of all engineers was formed called the Consulting Engineers Association of Colorado which, in turn, became a charter member of the national Consulting Engineers Council.

"Our association work has paid off here in Colorado. All the engineers know each other, our relations with architects are good, and there is scarcely an architect in the area who does not make full use of consulting structural engineers. I understand that this is not true all over this country. In some areas it seems to be common practice for architects to use employee engineers. That can be changed only by a full explanation to the architect and his client of the advantages of an independent consultant for structural work. That takes time, but I feel sure it can be done."

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