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Let's Take Back Our Profession

In the February 2017 issue of Structure magazine, the Structural Forum section contains a passionate debate on the complexity of ASCE 7-16. (For non-engineers, this is the standard that prescribes loads for buildings and is adopted into building codes.) It has become increasingly complex since its inception in 1982 and author Jim DeStefano argues that it is time for this to stop. He states that there is no evidence that more complex loading data actually creates a safer structure. He recommends "we take back our profession".

On this point I strongly agree. In fact, it has been my experience that increasing complexity leads to less safe buildings due to misapplication of code criteria. The code is so complex that for many simple structures it is far easier to just use older procedures and just slightly over-design the building. In most cases, it has little impact on the cost of construction.

Certainly, more complex buildings deserve more complex loading procedures. For these buildings ASCE 7-16 is appropriate. But the current ASCE 7 it is an example of "driving finish nails with a sledge hammer".

In the rebuttal, Ronald Hamburger defends the process and describes the case for a two-volume approach. A simpler first volume that would cover simple and routine structures and a second volume for the complicated projects. This seems entirely logical, but unfortunately ASCE staff have stood against this approach since it would be "confusing". This is the epitome of a bureaucratic mistake and actually shows a level of contempt from ASCE towards practicing structural engineers. Structural engineers deal daily with multiple standards and specifications besides ASCE 7 and successfully navigate through complex and confusing information. To think we cannot deal with a two-volume load standard is simply wrong.

Both authors make great points and I appreciate their opinions. It seems that in reality there is agreement between the authors that something simpler and more intuitive is needed. The obstacle seems to be the entrenched, but incorrect assumption, that more complex is always better. This is SO wrong! In my forty years of practice the old adage of KISS is a good approach to providing safe and economical buildings and allows a reasonable profit on our work. My hope is the ASCE 7 committee gets the message as stated by DeStefano; "be sensitive to all of the unnecessary hard work and lost profits they have generated". I know our clients don't see any value in being the best "ASCE 7 Rocket Engineer".

Link to Structural Forum ASCE 7-16 Controversy
Link to Structural Forum Rebuttal

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