Digital design of building structures for optimised cost and carbon performance

Lead Participant: Price & Myers


"The construction sector has been identified as a major contributor to global environmental changes resulting from human activities. Recognising relationships between material use, carbon and cost efficiencies has been a major challenge for engineering practitioners and researchers since the link between carbon emissions and climate change was established. Whilst in use carbon emissions has been reduced through more stringent regulations embodied carbon assessment is in its infancy. Currently, structural engineering design practices focus primarily on cost minimisation, but with increasing concerns about the sustainability of buildings, structural engineers have also begun to investigate how the optimisation of structural systems at the design stage could influence the overall life-cycle performance of buildings.

This proposal builds on a prototype developed as part of a previous Innovate UK project. This prototype allows structural engineers to improve the material efficiency of steel-framed buildings, reducing their cost and embodied carbon emissions by 10-40% through a rigorous optimisation analysis and the selection of the best early design schemes. Using that prototype as the starting point, the current proposal aims to extend this new design practice to the optimisation of other commonly used structural typologies, in particular reinforced concrete frames, which could lead to similar improvements and allow comparison between the most common structural typologies.

The previous study identified that focusing efforts on gaining efficiencies at early scheme design offered the greatest potential for performance improvements, as well as minimising costs and the risks. To achieve this objective, the project will develop a novel technology solution into a software application that can quickly analyse different structural materials (concrete, steel, timber), construction technologies (floor types) and other design parameters such as applied loads or foundation types to find the most carbon efficient structural configuration - but without compromising total costs. In addition to the potential cost and embodied carbon savings that can be directly delivered by the new technology, significant productivity improvements in design generally are to be expected due to the automated nature of the proposed novel design and verification procedure.

Overall, this proposal aims to challenge current practice, enable better integration across disciplines, and deliver solutions optimised in terms of current and likely future drivers, particularly resource use, embodied carbon and cost."

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer

Price & Myers, London £188,168 £ 112,901


University of Cambridge, United Kingdom £96,033 £ 96,033


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