How Architectural Design Impacts Structural Engineering Costs

Think of an iconic structure, and you would invariably think of something that’s celebrated all over the world. It wouldn’t be surprising if the structure is also one that has stood the test of time. Examples are a dime a dozen, so a quick comparison would reveal the fact that architectural excellence is the number one reason for its coveted stature.

There’s no doubt that architectural features enhance the aesthetics of a building. Sometimes, even a dilapidated building can be made more inviting with the magical touch of a creative genius. No wonder that many of today’s architects continue to suggest the traditional eyebrow windows, nine-light doors, decorative shutters and more.

Each of the architectural features has its own merits and demerits, but the latter can be addressed by being circumspect. First off, the features that are suitable for the building have to be finalized. If on a budget, insanely flamboyant features can be avoided since they increase the quantity and complexity of materials. This in turn will add to the overall structural system

Is there a way to maximize the number of architectural features while achieving the highest level of cost efficiency? Well, it’s a catch-22 situation! When it comes to building design, budget and beauty seldom go together. But there’s a workaround – study the pros and cons of some ‘nice-to-have’ features like vaulted ceilings, coffered ceilings, and large openings. Then figure out their implications on the future requirement changes. Lastly, and most importantly, arrive at a ballpark pricing after discussing with a contractor/builder.

Pros and cons of fancy structural enhancements 


Vaulted ceilings 
Found in historic monuments, the sloping vaulted ceilings add more oomph to the internal design of any building. Design connoisseurs who prefer to add some rustic charm to their homes need not think twice about it. It’s certainly a great option for homes where luxury is revered, and the illusion of a larger space is cherished. Vaulted ceilings add grandeur to living rooms and breathing space to kitchens. The extra space above creates a provision for larger windows and openings. It does create a lot of redundant space, but the benefits are manifold. There are smart homeowners who convert the same into storage space, so they get the best of both worlds – form and function.

On the flip side, there are challenges in terms of construction costs, maintenance, energy consumption, and space optimization. Over the years, vaulted ceiling design has evolved to meet modern-day requirements. So, the new-age homeowners have the challenge of choosing from a bouquet of options – domed vaults, barrel vaults, and fan vaults, aside from hyperbolic paraboloids. Additionally, it’s also difficult to retrofit multiple features in the future. If the safe 8-feet-high ceiling inside a trendy home is the requirement, then vaulted ceilings are definitely a no-no. On a lighter note – not everyone would keep a tall ladder just for changing a light bulb or cleaning a ceiling fan! Unless designed thoughtfully, vaulted ceilings can also trap hot air during summer. 

Coffered ceilings 

Flat ceilings are passé. Usually available in squares or rectangles, coffered panels are used to create awe-inspiring coffered ceilings beneath mundane ceilings. They divide the existing space into compartments that accentuate the grandeur of the interiors. In layman’s lingo, it’s like creating a false ceiling. It’s also true that many homeowners resort to this technique to hide the imperfections of a poor-looking ceiling! There are two ways of creating a coffered ceiling: 1) create a network of protruding beams where the panels can be inserted, and 2) press and create cavities on the surface of the flat ceiling. The first option is less complex. The advancements in construction technology have also made it easier with the launch of modular ceilings.

Generally, coffered ceilings do occupy a lot of space and reduce the available space inside the building. Spaces with lower ceilings may not be the right choice, since they make the home look cramped and inmates feel claustrophobic. The installation of a coffered ceiling demands the use of molding, trim and beams. Also, multiple materials like wood, metal, and paint are required to create this design innovation. Embellishments like lighting and reflective panels are difficult but can be added at a higher cost. If local craftsmen are on a project with limited financial resources, the task could be cumbersome and time-consuming. That’s not all – not every building has the built-in provision for including a coffered ceiling. 

Large openings

Arched and domed openings have been popular since time immemorial. Many mammoth structures  flaunt them with all their glory. Natural ventilation happens due to the influx of fresh air, and this is one of the greatest advantages homeowners are after. The semi-circular arch on the window is quite common in both traditional and modern houses. Be it in the bedroom, kitchen or living room, masterful use of space can enhance the overall ventilation. Who doesn’t love a home that allows pleasant light when the windows are opened on a sunny morning! Less wonder that kids love homes with more openings, so they can peep out at the drop of a hat! Bigger need not be always better. Though  large openings  have their pluses, there are some areas of concern. Care has to be taken to ensure that stiffening is carried out meticulously.

Otherwise, it can cause tensile stress on the walls. If left unattended, cracks can develop in the structure and become bigger over a period of time. Even the changes in climatic conditions can contribute to worsening the condition. This could gradually reduce the load carrying capacity of the walls. Even worse, it can affect the structure of the building itself. But the good news is that the size of openings on solid and cavity walls are regulated by the building code. So, even an enthusiastic homeowner can’t go overboard. The architects and engineers know where to draw the line.
Got questions related to architectural features and their impact on structural engineering? Our team of experienced California-licensed engineers can help you with the right advice and services.

Call us at (877) 704-5727 or email your requirements to for a no-obligation quote followed by a consultation.

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