Following a discussion on wind loads, I was reminded of the early stages of my education/career and how I viewed ASCE 7 "Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures". ASCE 7 reminds us throughout the text with the use of the terms "Minimum", "Basic", and "In the absence of ...", that there is or may be more to consider.
There is a difference between assessing an existing structure and designing a new structure. For an existing structure, the minimum load and design requirements are great for checking to ensure that is "Adequate for the minimum". For designing a new structure or renovating an existing structure, the more questions you ask the stakeholders and end-users, the better.
Of course, minimum design loads and requirements are most often directly related or proportional to time, cost, and weight; however, they may also be inversely proportional to performance. For example, the plans for the renovation and the addition to a martial arts building undoubtedly addressed the minimum requirements of the local and statewide building code (including ASCE 7), as a structural engineer and a member of the dojang, I realized, rather quickly, that it clearly did not address the noise and vibration associated with the activity (running, jumping and yelling) on a floor above.
Did the designer ask questions? Did they miss the clue that it was a martial arts building in the drawing title? Was the potential cost increase too much for the owner? Did the designers miss information during the site visit? Did the individual performing the design perform the site visit?
My questions when designing any type of structure include how, what, when, where and why. Once had a project manager deem a load case associated with machinery failure to be excessive when the machinery was constantly failing. I am quite sure I do not get it right all the time, but I strive to provide sound engineering judgement based on having contemplated the specifics of the project. I want my failings to be on the conservative side of analysis and not associated with the structure or structural elements.
James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC