From the astonishing high rises in Downtown Miami, to the spectacular Cruise Terminals along the port, Miami is truly an architectural museum. There is no doubt in the fact that these iconic visions are the product of very creative minds. However, engineering plays an important role behind the functionality of these designs. While architecture may be the expression of cultural symbols, engineering makes sure these designs are stable and can safely service our society. How? Through Structural Analysis and Structural Design, they allow structures to fulfill their intended purpose, while maintaining their artistic perspectives.
If you are not familiar with engineering, we might have lost you when we mentioned Structural Analysis or Structural Design. Truth is, when you see the final product of a building, you never think about the process it went through to become what it is. I mean, why would you? 😆 You aren’t aware of the fact that there are multiple brilliant minds behind every construction.
Think about it this way, as there are great cooks behind a kitchen helping the chef shine, there are amazing engineers behind an architect’s design that help make their dream a reality. To keep you in the loop 😉, we will unravel the important responsibilities Structural Engineering Firms must assume regarding construction projects in Miami.
Miami, The Magic City
Miami is the most populated urbanized area in South Florida. Its iconic views, beautiful beaches and amazing weather truly makes it a vibrant place to live in. The feeling of bliss and wonder while walking through the colorful night lights down Ocean drive is truly magical, in addition to the enchanting mix of flavors and music from all the rich cultures that hold you under their spell✨.
Yes, it is too good to be true.
Although most of the time it feels like paradise, we are all much acquainted with hurricane season 😅. Five months out of the year, we are vulnerable to one of these catastrophic winds to pay us a visit. Thankfully, the state has figured out standards to help us accommodate to these circumstances. The fact that the state can survive these storms lies behind the strict building code South Florida has imposed on constructions, called the Florida Building Code.
Florida’s Very Unique Building Code
When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992, it revealed how inadequate the state’s existing building code was. According to the Overview of the Florida Building Code, one of the biggest issues identified was compliance. What does this mean? Laws and regulations were not strictly being followed before and during a construction project. This led to predictability and accountability to be strengthened. Predictability means the calculations being “predicted” for a construction project needed to be as accurate as possible. And accountability means they wanted someone to be held “accountable” or responsible for these calculations.
In 2002, Florida adopted a new statewide code, which became one of the strictest in the nation.
So now, we are no longer afraid of hurricanes…Ok, that’s a lie.
Yes, I admit we all freak out when a hurricane is about to hit. But can you blame us? Supermarket shelves become empty like the apocalypse just happened. We get stuck for hours behind ten cars at the gas station just to realize there isn’t any gas left. There is a chance we might lose power which means no A/C AND WIFI ! And on top of everything else…our tans totally suffer because we can’t go anywhere near the beach 🙄. Although, there is nothing the state can do to stop these tropical depressions, they do enforce laws to keep us safe.
For starters, the Florida Building Code requires a structure to handle specific loads before it gets the approval to be built. A load is any action that could lead to the deformation of a component. Hence, any action that could change or deflect the shape of whatever structure we are referring to. Specifically regarding wind loads, any component that is permanently exposed and cannot be relocated during high winds must be anchored as per plans signed and sealed by a Professional Engineer. What does this mean? Once the Structural Design has been elaborated, a Professional Engineer must go over it to make sure there aren’t any mistakes, which makes this individual accountable for these calculations. Basically, it encourages professionals behind a project to make sure the structure that will be built is safe.
Structural Analysis and Structural Design
Now that we are ready to explain some of the tasks a Structural Engineer handles, let’s go over some important definitions 🤓.
A Professional Engineer is an individual who fulfilled education requirements, experience requirements and rigorous exams that allowed him or her to be licensed under State licensure laws. Each state has different building codes, which means Professional Engineers will need to follow specific requirements to be licensed in different states. A Structural Analysis determines how loads and other external effects can compromise a physical structure and its components. Simultaneously, the Structural Design will specify the materials, dimensions, and amount of reinforcement, among other requirements, that same structure will need.
Miami-Dade County and Broward County are High Velocity Hurricane Zones. If you are not a Floridian, place yourself on the south-east corner of Florida. These are the most populated locations that are closest to the Atlantic Ocean, and that will be highly impacted by the winds of a hurricane. With all the information we just gave you of how strict the Florida Building Code became, imagine all the tests a structure must pass to be considered safe in this area.
Structural Design Unraveled
For example, Architects will design a onetime sketch for a project. This project must go through multiple disciplines of engineering to comply with the code. Makes sense? Let’s break it down. Let’s suppose an architect will design the outline of an apartment building. The Structural Engineer will create the Structural Design for the shell of the building. Basically, he or she will specify the dimensions and materials required for this building to be stable and provide sufficient strength, while remaining functional.
Moreover, he or she will also require Specialty Structural Engineering for the Structural Design of the windows. Additionally, the project will also require Specialty Engineering for the calculations of the components that also conform the building. What do we mean by this? Anything that can be taken off the building without compromising its structural shell. For example, stairs, railings, awnings, and just anything else you can possibly imagine a building can have. Yes, all of these components will need specific structural plans and calculations in order for the building to function as a whole. And after this whole process of calculations is done, that’s when the Professional Engineer can evaluate if the structure is approved or not. Once the plans have been approved, they can be submitted for review to the city’s Building Department.
Our Unique Firm
Usually, there are firms that specialize on a single type of engineering or even a subset of Structural Engineering. However, Eastern Engineering Group is so unique, it offers multiple engineering services 😎. Our firm can help you with everything a project requires, from structural shells, to all of its components. This is very unique because it allows us to have the expertise of creating a functional Structural Design considering the engineering of its structural components.
NOA – Notice of Acceptance
There are countless chapters that contain several standards for specific structures in Florida. To give you a visual of the process of the Structural Design and Analysis, we will explain an NOA or Notice of Acceptance which is a document that originated with the revision of the code.
What is an NOA ?
Construction projects like the one we mentioned above, are big operations that require a lot of parties and capital to be involved. But imagine how annoying it must be for manufacturers of outside “simple” structures to have to go through that process every time they need to install their product. Like we previously mentioned, ALL plans of permanently exposed structures must be installed by a plan sealed and approved by a Professional Engineer, remember? 🙃 Some examples are: fences, canopies, awnings, railings, sun shades, etc…you get the idea.
For manufacturers to be able to safely distribute these types of products, that can be generic most of the time, Miami-Dade County created a document called Notice of Acceptance (NOA). An NOA is a non-site specific pre-engineered approved plan for a component obtained by a manufacturer from the Miami-Dade County. The Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources and Board and Code Administration Division, to be exact 😅. Basically a generic design that has been considered safe for installation. Once a design has this approval, its installation with no modifications is safe anywhere in Florida. We will try to simplify the process of acquiring an NOA to give you a better explanation.
Structural Design and Analysis for Awnings
Awnings are very popular structures in Florida. You will find them hanging from almost every patio, balcony, or pool lounge to provide shade. After all, we are the sunshine state 😎. Let’s pretend you are a manufacturer for one of those awnings. You want as many places in Miami to use your product. You have a generic design for this awning that has proven to be very popular, so you decide to get an NOA.
First thing you will do, is bring your sketch to Eastern Engineering Group to make it NOA eligible. Here, our Specialty Engineering Division will take care of the Structural Design and Analysis, to make sure it complies with the Florida Building Code. What does this mean? We will guide you through the process.
Composition of an Awning
Separate elements or members are going to compose the awning. Elements are all the components that together frame the final product. Like each piece of an Ikea furniture you have put together before.
For an awning, some basic elements you will find are beams, columns, connections and attachments. Beams are horizontal members, columns are vertical ones. A cap plate will be the connection between a beam and a column. A base plate will anchor the columns to the substrate (surface), typically a reinforced concrete foundation. Screws will hold together these connections, just like Ikea structures we reminded you of. During a Structural Analysis, one of our knowledgeable Structural Engineers will calculate how much stress each element receives and compare it to allowable limits during the Structural Design. After he or she determines this, the element that handles the least amount of pressure will determine the size, dimension, thickness and material specification to comply the loads prescribed by the code.
The manufacturer also needs to let us know if there will be fabric going on top of the awning. Which is very likely since most of them provide shade. When fabric goes on top of the awning, this means the structure will receive more wind pressure. Makes sense, right? Like when your umbrella feels like it is pulling you off the ground during a storm. Our Structural Engineer takes this into account when calculating reactions the base plates must handle and counterweight for the uplifting wind not to blow the structure away. For this, they will specify the minimal concrete dimensions for the base support using X, Y and Z measurements.
X, Y and Z ?
Place yourself on an X and Y axis. Y is vertical, X is horizontal. Z axis provides volume to a shape. Z can go up or down. The base plate will be what supports the column, and like we stated before, anchors it to the concrete foundation. Remember we are trying to make our awning generic to be approved for installation everywhere in Florida. So, this means the engineer has to consider any type of ground for the installation of the awning. To allow this, they will specify the dimensions of a concrete slab that will be able to hold the awning in place during a hurricane. A concrete slab is a plate made from concrete. X, Y and Z dimensions will tell the manufacturer how long, how wide and how deep the concrete pad needs to be.
Final Steps to Get your NOA
Yes, all of this requires a lot of mechanics which is the combination of science and math. But more importantly, these calculations must strictly follow all Building Code requirements. The Structural Design will also specify which types of materials the awning requires to be functional. Remember, not only does it need to be stable during a hurricane, but it also must handle weather effects. Once a Professional Engineer from Eastern Engineering Group, and a Professional Engineer from the state gives their seal and approval, you as the manufacturer will be able to submit your design along with a Product Control Application for NOA to the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources. Once your product receives the Notice of Acceptance, all the awnings you sell will be considered safe all over Florida. You will also get a cool plaque that will show off to everyone your product has a NOA. 😎
Go to miamidade.gov to find all NOA products to make sure what you buy is safe. Below you will find links to three awnings that were engineered by Eastern Engineering Group. How cool and qualified are we? 🙃
**The procedures and designs mentioned in this article are only a small fraction of all the amazing things Structural Engineers create and have been extremely simplified for comprehensive purposes**Other requirements may apply for the application process of an NOA, and note that they do have expiration dates, for more information about this visit miamidade.gov**