ORIGIN: Starting the Conversation

Architect-Civil Engineer Coordination: Paving the Way for Smoother Designs

04.02.24 by Krista Looney
No Comments

What is the ultimate key to delivering a project on time and under budget with minimal design changes and RFI’s?

Every AEC professional has probably pondered this at some point during their career. What is that one elusive intangible? That magic bullet?

Of course, with so many interwoven variables, it’s not any one thing. However, at Wallace Design Collective, we feel we’ve honed in on an important piece. An element that, given a little extra attention, can significantly contribute to smoother project design and delivery. 

Architect-civil engineer coordination.

With all of the moving pieces an architect has to balance plus the often heavy emphasis on the building itself over site components, pieces of civil coordination can sometimes end up slipping through. Totally understandable!

But the result? Missed coordination items can lead to:

  • Promises to the client that might not be achievable due to site constraints or local ordinances
  • Inefficient or problematic building designs
  • RFI’s and costly change orders in the field
  • Budget overages and missed deadlines as overlooked early-stage design issues come to light  

Understanding the civil team’s site and jurisdictional challenges before getting too far into a project can improve initial design effectiveness and reduce rework during later design phases and construction. This all contributes to keeping a project’s cost and schedule on track.

So, how do civil engineers and architects effectively work together to avoid bottlenecks and improve project flow?

In response to several local architecture firms reaching out to Wallace Design Collective for insights on how to improve their civil engineering coordination, department leadership turned to Heidi Wallace, PE, to develop an AIA-accredited 1-hour Continuing Education (CE) presentation, which qualifies for HSW credits. Drawing on her coordination experience from 8 years in civil site design, Heidi’s breakdown of civil engineering elements affecting architectural design provides an intro for younger architects and a refresher for more experienced staff. Without getting too deep, the presentation is a solid reminder of coordination items where a little communication upfront can help manage client expectations or reduce unnecessary changes down the road. 

“Obviously, we don’t need architects to understand everything that goes into civil engineering – that’s why we have civil engineering degrees – but we want [architects] to be familiar with those things, especially early on when they’re doing things like schematics or pitching projects to the client,” says Heidi. 

We asked Heidi to share some of her insights on nuances that architects should keep in mind when it comes to civil engineering coordination. Here are her top three takeaways:

1. Effects of civil site elements on building layout 

Civil engineering considerations such as site topography, drainage, and existing utility layout play a huge role in both the overall building orientation on a site and interior layout. Having the architect and civil engineer on the same page can avoid a door placement that might result in frequent flooding or an inconveniently located mechanical area or restroom not conducive to tying into existing utilities. 

At best, overlooking these elements creates minor inconveniences and expenses in the field or a late design change that impacts the budget and schedule. At worst, the building owner is dealing with major headaches down the road that require expensive or invasive post-construction solutions. Cross-discipline coordination upfront can help the design team optimize the interior and exterior layouts for the best possible construction and operational experience.

2. Impact of local codes on design

Heidi points out that while architects and structural or mechanical consultants primarily deal with national or international codes and standards, civil engineering considerations are often driven by local codes. Civil engineers have to become experts in everything from easement requirements to environmental regulations – and these can all change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. 

“Even if you build this same building on a lot two counties over, what we can fit on the site may actually be different based on zoning and drainage requirements,” explains Heidi.

The bottom line is that every site is different and every local government will have its own nuances. Before heading into any project ‒ no matter how similar to the one before ‒ it’s best not to make assumptions and to check in with the civil engineer for the site-specific details.

3. Bridging the Revit-CAD divide

As architects increasingly rely on Revit for coordination between disciplines, civil engineers can sometimes get left out of important project updates. Since Revit is building-focused and not well suited for site design, civil engineers typically work in separate programs, such as Autodesk’s Civil 3D. While sending out the latest Revit model might keep structural and MEP up to date, architects need to be cognizant that the civil engineer needs to be looped in as well.

Did any of these resonate with you and your architectural colleagues? Interested in learning more? Reach out to Heidi (heidi.wallace@wallace.design) to see about setting up a presentation for your office. As an added bonus, Heidi’s presentation includes a Quick Reference sheet with rules of thumb for typical site component dimensions, ADA and drainage slopes, and utility clearances. 

Reach out today and take one step closer to getting your AEC projects on the fast track with enhanced civil coordination!


There are no comments.

Leave a Reply

Back to top
close modal

Join Our Team!

Are you passionate about the AEC industry? Do you want to use your talents with a group of the greatest engineers, landscape architects, technicians and support personnel in the industry? You've found the right place. Wallace is unique in the way we strive to make lives better for our clients, communities and employees. And we believe we have more fun doing our job than just about anyone else! The art of possibility. Discover it at Wallace.

Learn More