How metal building systems work

In a contemporary metal building system, the size and shape can be just about whatever the project "wants." 

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August 06, 2015 |
Allen Hurtz

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Architects and design professionals have a valuable opportunity to learn about the design and performance of metal building systems.  An excellent overview of metal building systems has been made available by the Metal Building Manufacturer's Association (MBMA) as a free download from their website. It was created by MBMA conjunction with AIA Continuing Education Service (CES), and is such a well-rounded look at the subject that it was originally eligible for 2 LU of AIA credit.

The course covers the design options now possible with metal building systems, and illustrates their range of architectural flexibility, which has grown quite broad. One of the interesting points brought up is that computerized design has made fundamental changes in metal building systems, to the point where the idea of a 'standard design' hardly exists anymore. Although the metal buildings of three decades ago were truly pre-engineered and had very limited options, virtually all of today's metal building systems are custom designed. The engineering for each project is specific and potentially unique, unleashing creativity in design. 

Various roof shapes are possible, for example, including single-slope and double-slope, with centered or off-centered roof ridges. The structural frame can be designed to accommodate the architect's vision. Tapered frames used to be the norm, which made completely flat interior walls difficult or unnecessarily thick. Now, straight columns that disappear in the walls are also an option, as are large expanses of glazing. 

In a contemporary metal building system, the size and shape can be just about whatever the project "wants." The course points out that size is practically limitless.  Buildings of over 1 million sf have been built.  Modern metal building systems have increased cladding options, too, including brick, precast concrete, stone, wood, glass, or metal. Put it all together and this means that a metal building system can be an architectural building without compromise, and still offer the unique benefits of rapid construction, single-source efficiency, and high performance.

 The course also delves into the performance aspects of metal building systems, including thermal performance and acoustic control. It details the different types of wall and roof options, how they are insulated and finished.

In addition, there are several case studies illustrating the range of possibilities, and how the architects involved selected metal building systems and utilized their advantages. One particularly interesting project features a 5000 sf octagonal entry hall in the form of a tall atrium with massive sky lighting. One look at it virtually obliterates all common pre-conceptions about metal building systems.

While it is no longer being offered for AIA credit, it may be eligible for state license credit; check with your state licensing authority to determine eligibility. The course is one of an array of useful downloads available for free from MBMA at

MBMA reports that they are developing a new course that will be available for AIA credit, but its launch is still some months away.

Allen Hurtz | Metal Building Trends
Star Building Systems
Director of Engineering

Allen Hurtz, P.E., Director of Engineering, began his career at Star in January 1989 as a Design Engineer I.  He was promoted to Design Engineer II and then to Engineering Manager in 1997.  He accepted the position as Director of Engineering in 2012.  Allen received his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin Platteville and is a registered Professional Engineer in multiple states.  Allen and his wife, Trish, have two daughters, Rachel and Hannah, and enjoy family time and attending the girls’ activities.

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