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Written 16th November 2020

Technical Study two

At HTS we have developed an innovative design tool to facilitate structural optioneering in the early design stages of any project. The HTS ConceptTool is a plugin for Rhino that designs optimised structures in several standard materials for any proposed column arrangement. It efficiently designs each option and automatically calculates the total structural depth, material weight and embodied carbon, allowing for a quick and direct comparison of each material type for the given layout. The tool helps to create a comprehensive understanding of the carbon cost associated with the materials we specify and construction methods we recommend from the onset.

The early stages of design development often involve redesigning a structure multiple times as the proposed arrangement changes. This can be time consuming and repetitive for engineers and results in overly conservative designs that are carbon heavy. Automating this process provides engineers with more time to focus on coordination and proposing the most efficient load path for a given arrangement.

The tool was developed in house by a group of HTS engineers as part of the HTS+ research programme. The project provided a unique opportunity for engineers who had an interest in coding to develop their skills outside of their day-to-day project work.

Each engineer developed a design pipeline for the different materials and elements, these were combined to form a framework and then coordinated with 3D modelling software to output sketches ready for issue.

The ConceptTool is useful  for all structural types and material options but is especially effective in exploring full timber and steel-timber hybrid options in early stages. It gives those that are less familiar with engineered timber design, which is used less frequently than the more common steel or concrete, the data to communicate the benefits in cost and programme to clients and collaborators. Although it may not be appropriate for every project, timber remains the structural material with the lowest embodied carbon and should be central to the design optioneering process.

'Part of the HTS+ brief is to address issues that come up while working on projects, which might not be able to be resolved or developed within those project’s programme or budget constraints. The ConceptTool is exactly that: it solves a problem we kept encountering on projects and has allowed us to create more informed decisions about our design options.' - Laura Batty, Senior Technical Research Engineer