Memoirs 3. Promotion - Care and Feeding of Architects

by Milo Ketchum
circa 1990

Many engineers have difficulty working for and with architects. Because the engineer is essentially a subcontractor, it takes a type of person that can adjust to this secondary role. It is somewhat like a husband and wife situation; the wife often must obtain her way by indirection, suggesting rather that demanding. She must understand her husband's likes and dislikes. This is the tack that good structural engineers must take with their clients if they are to be successful. It has been said that every good architect is a frustrated structural engineer, and every good structural engineer is a frustrated architect.

I seemed to adopt to this role very easily and anticipate the architects reaction to my suggestions. If you want to do a particular type of structure badly, then you introduce it at a conference but do not force it, but rather play it down. Eventually the idea will become the architect's own. In showing him examples of your ideas, do not bring photographs, but rather make sketches. Architects do not like to make copies of other peoples designs. Brainstorming is the usual method of working with architects, it is a fascinating task and must be thoroughly understood to be of value. This is where the engineer can be most effective and introduce his ideas.

The other side of the coin is that the engineer must go into a conference thoroughly understanding the design problems for the structure he is suggesting. If you haven't done the proper studies and the necessary thinking, then it is too late; it may take a long time to assimilate the information required. This does not mean that you must have designed a similar structure, but you must have done enough to give that air of confidence required to convince the architect.

Inevitably the matter of cost will arise. Again the engineer must be well prepared both on available cost data and the philosophy of approach to estimating costs. This is especially true of structures like concrete shells; the average engineer would say, arbitrarily, that they are too costly to use, and are not justifiable. The point to stress, is that one must consider the whole costs, and not just the structure alone. Costs are difficult to estimate closely, and the only precise method is to prepare alternate designs and take formal bids.

There is always a debate among engineers on the value of elaborate brochures and what should be in them. For our promotion of shell structures, I prepared a short booklet called Types and Forms of Shell Structures which I sent to our clients and used as a promotional tool. It said nothing about the firm except for the name on the title sheet. I feel that this was responsible for many of our shell structures. It went into a second edition, and the Portland Cement Association was so impressed with it that they ordered quite a few copies for distribution. This led to an extensive lecture tour of many cities in the United States, especially to architectural schools, including Yale University, where I spent two weeks as a lecturer. This gave me further insight into the "Architectural Mind".

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