Course syllabus


VBB122 Structural systems: Design and assessment lp1 HT23 (7.5 hp)

Course is offered by the department of Architecture and Civil Engineering

Course plan

The course plan can be found on the following link to TimeEdit

Aim of the course and content

The course, which is compulsory in the master’s programme, is an introduction to structural engineering and building technology. It is complementary to the other more specialised courses in the programme. The main aim is to promote development of a comprehensive view, which is needed in design and assessment of structural systems, buildings and their components, to place design work and analyses in a context. The course should also unify the group of students with respect to their prerequisites.

The course treats typical structural systems for buildings concerning their design, structural behaviour and stability, performance during service, and structural assessment. Load combinations and load paths, intuitive understanding of structural behaviour, service life design and conceptual design are emphasised.

The course consists of introductory lectures, study visits and one major project where students work together in groups under supervision of practicing engineers. The project concerns conceptual design of a building structure, where alternative concepts should be developed and evaluated. The project gives also training in organisation and co-ordination of group work, quality assurance and presentation of technical information.

Project :

Conceptual design of a structural system for a building

Intuitive phase                        Evaluation phase

                Hand-in                                               Hand-in                         Seminar


 Learning outcomes

After completion of the course, the student should be able to

  • describe the realisation process of buildings concerning conceptualisation, design, construction, and the operation period including inspection, maintenance, structural assessment, repair and strengthening,
  • describe typical requirements on buildings structures with regard to needed safety, performance, durability and efficient use of resources,
  • describe how typical buildings are composed by structural systems and systems for climate protection and in-door comfort,
  • describe and sketch the mechanical behaviour of typical structural systems for buildings concerning actions, load transfer and stabilisation, and need for movements,
  • identify and calculate design load combinations for critical sections of structural systems,
  • perform conceptual design in international project teams and present a recommended solution with arguments,
  • create and evaluate alternative structural solutions including analysis of risks and uncertainties, engineering ethics, and service life considerations,
  • identify and evaluate sustainability issues during the evaluation phase of the solutions
  • critically review proposed concepts for structural systems
  • perform preliminary design and preliminary sizing of structural systems.

Course literature

Lecture notes and extracts will be available at the course home page on Canvas.


The course evaluation is divided in two parts which are defined by the assessment of the individual work activities and the group activities.

The dugga is carried out and evaluated during the course; concerning loads, load combinations and forces in bracing systems.

The project is evaluated based on three grades, first hand-in (Intuitive phase), final hand-in (Intuitive phase + preliminary sizing) and oral and written presentation prepared by each group of students. In addition, it will be evaluated a written critical review of other’s group work. The final presentation takes place in front of a jury of experienced design engineers. Active participation in project work is required. It is required that each group take minutes of each group meeting. The minutes should typically include: date, start/end time, place, participants, absents, decisions taken, new actions, on-going actions, finalised actions.

At the end of the course each student will receive an individual final grade, which is a weighted value considering the group work (0,6) and the individual exam (0,4).

Individual activity:

‘Dugga’ (40% of the final grade)

To check the individual study, an exam concerning loads, load combinations and forces in bracing systems will be held during the course (‘dugga’). The dugga will contain different questions comprising the aforementioned parts of the course. Each question is graded from 0 to 2, and the total grade of the dugga will be from 0 to 16. The dugga is passed when the grade is 8 or more. Everybody has the right to go to the re-dugga, even if the first dugga is previously passed; the highest grade between both will be used as final grade of the individual work of the course. The dugga is carried out at Campus.

Group activities:

Writing an introduction (G/U)

This task is specifically oriented to support the student for the writing process of the master’s thesis. An important milestone in the education of a master candidate is the writing of the final project report and how to write such report is not currently taught within the framework of the master programmes which can lead to complications and complexities to culminate the master studies. Having this in mine a transversal framework to aid the student’s writing within the MPSEB programme has been designed and implemented. Such framework so-called ‘a road towards a better writing’ intends to provide the student with the necessary tools to face the writing phase of the different parts that a master’s thesis traditionally comprises. This will be done by working individually with all these parts under the umbrella of different courses' syllabus within the MPSEB programme.

Due to the nature of this course VBB122 – Structural Systems, being it an introductory course in the master programme, and due to the typology of project to be held within the same, the ‘introduction’ of the master thesis is chosen as main theme to start up with this ‘writing framework’.

The activity planned in the course is to write a piece of text corresponding to the introduction of master thesis. In this case to fit the course needs such introduction will be based on the main course’s project. Such introduction will put the focus on the different aspects to be covered by the project by well stabilising the scope and limitations. In addition, it will be carefully described the method to be used well accompanied with corresponding bibliographic references.

More details on how this task will be performed will be given during the workshop to be held during the first week of the course. In such workshop some background theory in terms of style and technique will be discussed together with the different parts that an introduction of a master’s thesis should comprise.

The submission of the introduction is the same day as the first hand-in of the project.

Mola + SAP project (G/U)

The ‘SAP project’ is organised as a complementary group work in which specific tasks concerning modelling of structural systems are going to be carried out. 

The project will run during the second half of the phase of the main project and it is designed to be accomplished within the specific time slots booked in the course’s syllabus. A supervisor from Chalmers will be available during the SAP sessions to aid and provide support for the development of the requested tasks. The evaluation of the project will be done form the different hand-ins during the activity.

‘Conceptual design’ project and its examination (60% of the final grade)

The design exercise on ‘conceptual design’ is organised as a project and arranged as a design competition. A jury of experienced engineers will evaluate the proposed concept, its motivations and the methodology used in the design process.

In the project the students are organised in groups of about 5 - 7 persons. Each group should appoint one of the students to be their co-ordinator. The main language is English and all presentations should be given in English.

Different design tasks will be presented concerning various types of buildings. For each design task, there will be two groups working in competition. Those two groups will have a practicing design engineer acting as their client and supervisor.  

As a result of the conceptual design process the group should present an appropriate concept for a structural system. The final concept should define:

  • the structural layout and configuration,
  • the main structural members and their typical behaviour,
  • the ways to carry and distribute vertical and horizontal loads,
  • the dimensions of main structural members,
  • the structural materials with specified requirements,
  • the connections and important details,
  • façade solution and detailing,
  • the way of production.

In order to find an appropriate solution and convince the client that it is the best one, several alternative concepts must be compared and evaluated.

By support of lectures and the supervisors, the students are supposed to work in groups on their own to solve the task. Meetings with the supervisor are not scheduled, except for the first meeting. Otherwise the group makes their own agreement with the supervisor. For meetings with the supervisor, co-ordination between the two groups with the same supervisor is required. Questions and items for discussion should be prepared in beforehand to get as much interesting information as possible from the supervisors.

Since groups of students study different examples of structures and present their objects to each other, they should also learn from each other. The design task is distributed to the groups during the first lecture. The group should take minutes of each group meeting. The minutes are a good way to keep track of the project. At the examination of the project, the minutes examine the active participation of individual members in the group work. The minutes should be organised and well structured, i.e. at a revision, decisions and tasks can be revised over time. The minutes should be delivered with the two hand-ins.

Presumptions for the work

Your group is formed within a consulting company with a good reputation or is an independ­ent design team within a larger organisation. It is your responsibility to co-ordinate and to complete the work in the group within the specified time. Several groups or companies are competing for this project. This means that the solution that best fulfils all requirements with regard to architectural ideas, technical requirements, economy, production, service life design, and environmental care should be aimed at.

The main steps of the exercise

The work is divided in two phases, the intuitive phase and the evaluation phase.

Design exercise – conceptual design

Intuitive phase:

Evaluation phase:

·     Analysis of the task

·     Preliminary intention of design

·     Generation of alternative concepts

·     Preliminary evaluation criteria

·     Ranking of criteria

·     Preliminary evaluation

·     Selection of promising alternatives




·     Risk analysis

·     Service life considerations

·     Reconsidered intention, solutions

·     Reconsidered criteria

·     Evaluation of alternatives

·     Selection of a winning alternative

·     Preliminary sizing

·     Identify critical issues

·     Modifications

·     Motivations – arguments

First hand-in (presentation with notes)

Final hand-in (presentation with notes)

Intuitive phase (first hand-in)

·   Analysis of task - preliminary intention of design

The design task should be analysed in order to identify the needs of the client and the users and the specific conditions of the site and limitations, such that the freedom in design can be defined. Relevant requirements should be specified. The analysis should result in a preliminary intention for the design work. ‘What should be aimed at?’

·   Generation of alternative solutions

In order to find the best solutions, several alternative concepts must be considered and com­pared to each other during the work. Therefore, many alternative concepts need to be generated. In this stage, it is important to be free in mind and seek new possibilities to fulfil the design goal. Alternative concepts can be grouped in different ‘families’ depending on the main principles used. In each ‘family’ different concepts can be considered as modifications or variants of the main idea. ‘How can the design goal be achieved in different ways?’

·   Establish preliminary evaluation criteria

On the basis of the intention of the design, preliminary evaluation criteria should be established. The criteria should make it possible to compare and evaluate alternative solutions and to give priority to important qualities of the proposals. The evaluation criteria are effective, if they lead to a large variation in the comparison. To have a reliable evaluation of alternative solutions the evaluation criteria need to be ranked in order of importance. ‘How should the alternative solutions be compared?’

·   Selection of some promising alternatives

Based on a preliminary evaluation of all possible (and impossible) concepts, considering the preliminary evaluation criteria, some more promising concepts for the main structural system should be selected and proposed. For the promising alternatives that are presented, the group must have a general idea about the structural layout and structural behaviour, flow of forces and stabilisation, structural materials and way of production. ‘What solutions fulfil the goal best?

·   Presentation 
The results of the intuitive design phase should be presented by means of slides with notes prepared in Power Point. By means of good arguments, informative and clear illustrations (sketches), and a well-structured presentation, you should convince the reader that your solutions are the most appropriate ones. Not only the result of the process, but also the process itself should be considered in the presentation. A pdf copy of the slides with explaining notes and appended meeting minutes should be delivered to the course homepage on Canvas before the deadline.

The presentation should include:

  • The task – what is the problem
  • Demands, specific conditions, limitations
  • Preliminary intention of design
  • Alternative solutions - with sketches
  • Preliminary evaluation criteria
  • Preliminary evaluation of solutions by means of the criteria
  • Promising solutions - motivation

How and WHY!

Evaluation phase (final hand-in)

·   Risk analysis

When the promising solutions are compared to each other in order to choose the best option, it is necessary to consider possible risks for losses in time, money and reputation. By a simplified risk analysis critical stages and critical details should be identified and evaluated with regard to probability and consequence. A simple risk analysis can be just to ask oneself: ‘What can go wrong here?’

·   Service life considerations

The performance and appearance during service life must be considered. Possible durability problems should be identified, and for each alternative concept a strategy for maintenance and repair must be chosen. ‘What can go wrong during operation? – can some problems be prevented already?’

·   Reconsideration of design intention and promising solutions

Before the careful comparison and evaluation starts it might be necessary to recon­sider the intention of design and parts of the proposed concepts or even replace them. Consider comments of the review. Consider also the outcome of your risk analysis and service life considerations. If considerable risks for failures or mistakes have been identified, the concepts might need to be modified or rejected before starting the next step. ‘Are the winning alternatives the same as before or should it be a new selection?’

·   Reconsideration of evaluation criteria

It is now possible to improve the evaluation by new and better and more efficient criteria, reconsider ranking of the criteria and even weight them for more accurate comparison. It is important to consider all relevant criteria in this final evaluation. Can the evaluation criteria be improved?

·   Evaluation of alternatives and selection of a winning alternative

The selected design alternatives should be carefully compared and evaluated in order to find the ‘best’ possible solution. Hopefully the evaluation process results in one winning concept. Check with your intuition that the winning concept is the one that should win. If not, you need to reconsider the process. ‘Which alternative wins?’

·   Preliminary sizing

When a winning concept has been appointed, it is important to show that the concept is realistic and possible to realise in practice. Therefore, preliminary sizing of main structural members should be carried out. Not only should loads be considered but also more general demands with regard to the performance of the building. ‘What sizes are needed?’

·   Specification of structural material

For all essential structural units, the structural material should be stated. In addition, for a selected part of the building structure, the structural material should be specified in detail with regard to durability demands and other needs. This part should be chosen after discussion with the teachers in ‘Materials performance’.

·   Specification of façade solution

The structural concept should include choice of façade and integration of the façade with the structural system. For a selected part of the façade the wall section should be specified.

·   Identify and check critical issues in design

Before the final proposal is presented it is important to know that all problems are possible to solve. Therefore, the critical issues in design, production and operation should be identified and checked by preliminary analysis. ‘Are there any hidden problems that cannot be solved?’

·   Modifications

If the preliminary sizing or check of difficult issues results in problems, you need to improve your concept or even reject it.

Before you finish your evaluation, think about the strengths and weaknesses of your final solution. The strengths give the motivations and arguments for your solution. Perhaps something could still be modified in your proposed solution to minimise the weaknesses.

·   Motivations and arguments

List motivations and arguments that support your proposal. Motivations and arguments should have resulted from the evaluation process.

·   Final presentation 

The results of the project should be presented at a seminar by means of a slide show. Slides with notes should be prepared in Power-Point. The time available for the presentation is limited to 15 minutes per group.

A copy of the slide show with explaining notes and appended meeting minutes should be delivered to the course homepage in Canvas before the deadline.


The group presents their results through

The presentations should be based on a slide show prepared in PowerPoint with notes. The oral presentation is limited to 15 minutes. At the seminar, each group should also oppose the work of another group. Questions and comments should be prepared for the opposition during the seminar. Written comments and proposals for improvement of the slides should be delivered by the “review group” to the students who prepared the slide show and to the teachers at the seminar.

The work in the groups, the results obtained and the presentations will be evaluated and graded. Each member of the group will get the same points based on the evaluation of the common results of the group. The following parts will be evaluated:

  • choice of concept with motivations
  • creativity in design
  • preliminary sizing and check of critical issues
  • consideration of service life design aspects
  • choice and specification of structural materials
  • choice and specification of a typical façade solution
  • oral presentations and slide shows
  • review of the work of other groups and written comments for improvements.
  • opposition during the seminar

Required participation of all students

All students must take active part in the work of the group, as the design task is part of the examination. Each student should prepare some part of the preliminary and final hand-ins. It is compulsory to take part in the seminar.

The role of the co-ordinator

The coordinator should lead and organise the work of the group and is responsible for:

  • establish contact with the supervisor (exchange telephone number, e-mail address etc.)
  • arrange meetings with the supervisor
  • distribute the work in the group evenly
  • organise “job rotation”
  • organise checking, quality control, and improvement of the presentations
  • see to that every member is well informed of the work of the whole group.

Every member of the group is requested to support the co-ordinator.

If it happens that one or more members of the group is not responding properly it is important to address and inform your supervisor from Chalmers, so something can be done in due time.


Every group will have two supervisors. One supervisor from Chalmers and another from the industry.

  • Chalmers’ supervisor is meant to support the group during the whole process by helping the group to perform appropriately. However, is the supervisor from the industry who will help with the technical content and issues connected to the project development.
  • The task of the supervisor from the industry is to provide you with information concerning specific conditions for the project, guide you and to respond on your proposals. However, be aware that you are supposed to make all decisions yourselves. You can’t expect the supervisor to give answers to all questions. The supervisor is also acting as the client’s representative.

The group should meet the supervisor about 5 times. The meetings should be well prepared by the group with prepared material and questions. The five meetings may be used to discuss the following items:

Meeting 1: Information about the project, constraints, specific conditions, assumptions, requirements, design criteria

Meeting 2: Evaluation criteria, alternative concepts, sketches, principles for choice

Meeting 3: Risk analysis, service life considerations, final evaluation,

Meeting 4: Principles for preliminary sizing, critical issues in design

Meeting 5: Feedback on final proposal

Course summary:

Date Details Due