Understanding basic principles of structural engineering is integral to an architect or building designers’ process of designing dwellings for the built environment. Several engineering forces impact the structural integrity our buildings. While a structural engineer will ultimately be responsible for the structural adequacy of most projects, smaller projects many not need a structural engineer to be engaged. In this case, it may be up to the designer to understand the engineering requirements, and to conform with regulatory codes and standards.


Force principles 

Force is caused through an interaction of two objects. This interaction causes a (push or pull) motion or creates pressure/stress. The impact of this stress depends on the rigidity of a structure. Force is measured in Newtons (N). The magnitude of force is calculated by multiplying the mass in kilograms (kg) and acceleration in metres per second squared (m/s2).


Force = mass x acceleration
N = kg x m/s2


There are different types of forces that can impact on the building, and determine if the structural engineering solution is suitable to withstand the interaction. These elements are:

  • Compression of weight
  • Wind
  • Gravity
  • Physical impact of an external object
  • Friction
  • Tension
  • Ground movement
  • Expanding and contracting of building materials - under conditions such as temperature

Structural load principles

Load paths

Load paths are the direction in which each consecutive load bears upon connected members. Calculate loads from highest point of the building, working downwards through loadbearing elements, adding culminated load as you go. Ultimately all load must be transferred to the footings, and will place bearing pressure on the site’s foundation. 

The lowest structural member must be strong enough to support well in excess of the full potential dead and live load above it. This is why engineers often design from the top down.

Structural load types

The following are types of structural loads from elements that need to be taken into consideration when designing. Click the link to find out more on each:




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The information contained in the article and website are general in nature and are the opinions of the author, through his professional experience and study. Click here for more details of our content.