New Paradigms for Structural Modelling

In the mid 1980’s Microsoft developed a universally accepted desktop computer operating system. From that time powerful software for structural analysis and design was developed and the low cost of the hardware provided the software on every desk.

This is perhaps the most significant change to affect the way in which the structural engineer works; a change over 15 years from hand calculations to analysis and design by computers. This has moved the emphasis from skills in hand analysis and design to the stages of structural modelling from the real structure to the computer model.

This website was set up by Dr David Brohn (DMB) to co-ordinate and encourage the development of training strategies to replace the informal development of procedures for analysis and design in the design office with a new approach that reflects the use of the computer and is aimed specifically at the development of structural modelling skills, the key to which is a sound understanding of structural behaviour.

An understanding of structural behaviour

In the early 1970s DMB devised a test for an understanding of structural behaviour. The control group for the test was the graduate entry to the Arup Partnership. The test was conducted over 10 years and revealed a substantial deficiency in this skill, a skill that at the time was not clearly defined. In order to correct the deficiency, a training course was commissioned by Arup and literally hundreds of graduates passed through the course over a 10-year period.

Inevitably, this exercise was the subject of some discussion back in the design office and the course was run for more experienced staff, some of whom had been with the practice for many years.

This revealed that, despite considerable experience, even engineers of many years in the design office may be less than secure in applying an understanding of structural behaviour than they would have expected.

The Institution of Structural Engineers set up a working party to investigate the issues raised by the published reports that endorsed the views put forward by David Brohn (17).

In 1984, DMB published a textbook, ‘Understanding Structural Analysis‘ (15,16) explaining how an understanding of structural behaviour could be used to develop conventional theories of structural analysis.

This text is now in its third edition and is used as the basis of teaching in a number of universities, both in the UK and abroad.

‘Brohn’s magnificent text presents a radical departure…Such an approach has much to recommend it’ 

Times Higher Education Supplement (Understanding Structural Analysis. First Edition)

The use of the computer in structural engineering

An analysis of the results of the test of an understanding of structural behaviour showed clearly that a visual schema (8, 9, 14) was crucial to obtaining a qualitative solution and DMB started to research the matching of an intuitive graphical user interface to computer software for structural analysis. QSE Ltd was formed in 1986 to exploit this work.

Since that time an extensive range of PC compatible software was developed by QSE for the professional structural engineer. However, the design of the interface was so successful that the same software was a virtual standard in Universities in the UK.

A student version of QSE Plane and QSE Space are included free with the 3rd edition of ‘Understanding Structural Analysis‘.

The future is now

Experienced engineers are now recognising that they possess skills of understanding (12) that, because of the universal use of the computer in the design office, the young engineers who will replace them will not necessarily acquire. The post-graduate period in the design office where these skills were developed on the drawing board and calculation pad have all but disappeared and there is now a recognition that there is a need to identify a formal way of teaching such skills to replace that informal acquisition.

DMB believes that the feedback he has received from both the training courses for academics and structural engineers confirm that these courses are able to substantially change the direction and emphasis of those who attend the courses and the training for the development of an understanding of structural behaviour, structural modelling and the use of the computer in the design office.


  1. Brohn, D.M. (1973) A test of Structural understanding. Paper presented verbally at the Conference Concrete Objectives for Education, Cement and Concrete Association, Slough, December.
  2. Brohn, D.M. (1976) The assessment of graduate skills in the discipline of Structural Engineering. Assessment in Higher Education, Bath University, 1, 69-85.
  3. Brohn, D. M. and Cowan, J. (1977) Teaching towards an improved understanding of structural behaviour, The Structural Engineer, 55, 9-17.
  4. Brohn, D.M. and Cowan, J. (1977) Discussion on the paper ‘Teaching towards an improved understanding of structural behaviour’, The Structural Engineer, 55, 49-515.
  5. Brohn, D.M. (1977) The Analysis of Indeterminate Structures – A System for self-instruction. Hong Kong, Hong Kong Polytechnic.
  6. Brohn, D.M. (1977) The Use of the Computer as a self-instructional aid. International Conference on computer applications in developing countries, Bangkok, August 1977.
  7. Brohn, D.M. (1978) The Use of the Plane Frames Program as an aid to Learning in Structural Analysis. Symposium on computer assisted learning in Civil and Structural Engineering, Swansea, September 1978.
  8. Brohn, D.M. (1981) The Use of the Plane Frames Program as an aid to Learning in Structural Analysis, Computers and Education, 5, 37-44.
  9. Brohn, D.M. (1978) The role of a Visual Schema in the teaching and assessment of structural analysis. Conference on the Teaching of Analysis and Design of Structures, University of Nottingham, September 1978.
  10. Brohn, D.M. (1981) Teaching structural engineering – a new paradigm. Working party on the qualitative analysis of structural behaviour, Meeting 21 May 1981.
  11. Brohn, D.M. (1981) A new paradigm, Institute of Psychosynthesis, Bournemouth, 16 November 1981.
  12. Brohn, D.M. (1982) Structural engineering – a change in philosophy. The Structural Engineer, 60A, 117-120.
  13. Brohn, D.M. (1982) The development of intuitive skills in structural engineering. The Education of the Engineer for Innovative and Entrepreneurial Activity. Proceedings of the annual conference of the European Society for Engineering Education, Delft, 23- 25 June 1982, 181-186.
  14. Brohn, D.M. (1983) Academic priorities in structural engineering – the important of a visual schema. The Structural Engineer, 61A, 17-19.
  15. Brohn D. M. (1984) Understanding Structural Analysis. Granada, London, 1st Edition.
  16. Brohn D. M. (1990) Understanding Structural Analysis. Blackwells, London, 2nd Edition.
  17. Institution of Structural Engineers. Qualitative Analysis of Structures, Institution of Structural Engineers, London, 1989