Research-Design Project - Structures

Module aims

 Undertaken over the final four months of the course, students will aim to complete either:

  1. one group-based conceptual design project and a detailed individual design project, or
  2. one group-based conceptual design project and a research-oriented dissertation

Both the Conceptual and Detailed Design projects may be undertaken in the design of a steel or concrete building, or a bridge.

The principle aim of the Design Project – Dissertation is to assess the capability of students to undertake independent research-based work. While the research focus of the dissertations is relatively obvious, the detailed individual design projects also include a significant component of research. 

Learning outcomes

Students should finish this module having gained a deep understanding of the topic on which they have decided to write their dissertation/project. They will have developed skills in overcoming technical problems, presenting their work and in applying the knowledge they have learnt in taught modules to conduct research and compose their own work. In addition to students applying material they have been exposed to during their taught modules, the students will almost certainly develop new skills relevant for their particular topic that will extend far beyond the taught modules. This may include learning new pieces of software, programming languages, analytical approaches, and experimental techniques, among others.

Module syllabus

During the course of this module students will complete the following projects:

Conceptual design project: a group exercise conducted over a two-week period that requires teams of students to propose conceptual designs for particular problems dictated by a given brief. All students are required to complete one of these projects prior to commencing their detailed design project or research dissertation. 

Detailed design project: a major design project involving detailed design of a complete structure. Students are required to submit a detailed written report and give an oral presentation. The aim of this project is to give students the opportunity to apply the knowledge they have accumulated from the taught modules and to gain experience in tackling the design of a complete system. The projects also include a research component that accounts for 30% of the final grade.  

Research dissertation: the purpose of this work is to develop skills in tackling challenging technical problems at a fundamental level, under the supervision of a member of the academic staff and culminating in a formal dissertation and oral examination. The standard of work required is similar to that for a refereed publication.

Part-time students can start preparing for their dissertation/project (reading, collecting information, learning tools, etc.) at any stage during their studies. However, we expect the main part of conducting the work to be during the last year of the course, including the submission/assessment, as only then will these students have completed all of their taught components.

Part time students should follow exactly the same timetable for design projects, including submission date, as full time students.

Information Note:

Unlike plagiarism, which equates to copying, collaboration is a professional skill that is encouraged: it should involve mutual effort. Where coursework is specifically set as Group Work, the collaboration will involve the presentation by two or more students of a single report, together with related drawings and calculations, as the joint work of the group. Most coursework, however, is intended to be Individual Work, submitted under the name of a single student. Collaboration may involve you discussing with other students the intention of the project brief, ways and methods of carrying out the investigation and possible sources of reference. However, the obtaining of results, by observation or calculation, must be your own individual work, as must be the report, drawings etc. in which you present the results of your investigation.

The Conceptual Projects are joint- or group work whereas the Detailed Design Projects and Research Dissertations are individual.

Teaching methods

Conceptual design project: Students attend a project induction session and two tutorial workshops over the two weeks of the project, which culminates in a presentation attended by all students and a minimum of two assessors, one being the project coordinator. Attendance at all sessions is compulsory and all students are required to attend the presentations on the final day and also to take part in the presentations.

Detailed design project:  Students undertaking these projects commit to a rigid framework of attendance, starting with the project induction and then weekly tutorial workshops for the first (normally) five weeks of the project. Attendance is compulsory. For those students undertaking the Detailed Design of a Tall Building (Steel) project, students must demonstrate to the project leader a good foundation in Structural Dynamics at undergraduate level or attendance at the autumn term Structural Dynamics module as a compulsory pre-requisite.

Research Dissertation: You will be supported by your personal supervisor who will oversee your progress and offer any assistance you may require.

A training workshop is provided by the Library staff on the use of referencing software and the avoidance of poor academic practice.

Information Note: Attendance

Students are subject to the same attendance requirements during the course of the project element of the programme as with the taught element. 


Total Marks Allocated


   Conceptual Project


   Detailed Project or Dissertation


 A single mark is returned on your degree transcript which will be in percentage format.

Conceptual Design Project students will present their design to an audience of academic staff and their peers. All students within each group must present and participate.

Individual Design Project students will present their design to an audience of academic staff and their peers.

Dissertation students will undertake an oral (viva voce) exam involving the supervisor and an internal examiner drawn from the Board of Examiners.

All work is double-marked and subject to review by both External Examiners for the Advanced Structural Engineering MSc cluster.

Information Note ~ Failure in Project-Dissertation


This is potentially more serious than examination failure for the following reasons:

·         Access to further supervision is not offered to the same level as during the first attempt;

·         Access to College facilities, i.e. libraries, computing and software, is likely to be limited;

·         Visa restrictions may complicate interaction with staff;

·         Peer support will normally not exist.

Criteria for the Marking of Projects, Dissertations and Coursework Exercises

In the case of major projects/dissertations, assessment should first be made under four general categories:

1.                   Evidence of enquiry, creative ability, critical thought

2.                   Level of understanding

3.                   Level of effort, competence and quality

4.                   Clarity and style of presentation (including Viva-Voce)

Particular value should be attached to work that is regarded as intellectually challenging.  The project/dissertation should then be considered as a whole and its features matched against the written criteria as a benchmark.






Distinction Standard: Outstanding achievement and presentation beyond the expectation of the supervisor, and making little demand for supervisory support.



Distinction Standard: Excellent work and presentation; substantial level of independent enquiry, of critical thought or creative ability.



Good: Well organised, clearly presented and adequately detailed; thorough grasp of relevant principles; some evidence of independent enquiry, of critical thought or creative ability; assessment of alternative solutions, designs or approaches.



Pass: Substantially correct; basic understanding of relevant principles; some evidence of enquiry; substantially competent in design, calculation and organisation; modest evidence of creative or critical ability; adequately presented; adequate level of consistent effort.



Unsatisfactory/Borderline: Some elements correct; incomplete understanding of relevant principles; some competence in routine tasks; somewhat lacking in presentation or in the application of consistent effort.  Just acceptable.



Possibly recoverable: Work displaying little or no understanding of the relevant principles; failure to develop an approach that would achieve the desired outcome; major elements incorrect.  Unacceptable.



Not Satisfactory.

Selection Process 

Conceptual Design ~ your choice of project is nominally free, although there are limits in place on total numbers and preferred groups sizes. You will be asked to indicate your choice of project in order of preference.  In the event that a project is over-subscribed your Student Course Representatives will be asked to assist with the final allocations.

For those of you who will be undertaking a Detailed Design Project rather than a Research Dissertation, there is NO requirement that you take the related Conceptual project, i.e., concrete detailed design students need not have taken the concrete conceptual project. In fact, it is an opportunity for you to cover a broader syllabus. 

The nominal caps and group sizes are:

·         Steel Conceptual (Groups of 5 students, maximum 6 groups) - Cap of 30

·         Concrete Conceptual (Groups of 4 members)

·         Bridge Conceptual (Groups of 5 students, maximum of 6 groups) - Cap of 30 

Dissertation-Design Project ~ the allocation of students to either the detailed design project, or to a dissertation topic takes place towards the end of the spring term. Each year three detailed design projects are offered, with a nominal cap on student numbers of 12 students per project. The particular brief for each of these projects varies each year. The research dissertations naturally vary more significantly from year to year. The particular topics that can be undertaken can be defined in two ways. The principle way is that academic staff provide a list of topics that is circulated to the students. The students may then express interest in particular topics, and for a limited period of time there is an opportunity to reach an agreement with the relevant academic for a student to be allocated to this topic. Students can also, through discussion with an appropriate academic, propose their own area of investigation. Input from a member of academic staff is crucial if following this route in order to ensure an appropriate scope and level of difficulty is targeted from the outset.

Project Title

Available to

Pre-requisite modules

Design of a Bridge

All courses

Design of Bridges (CI9-STR-35)

Design of Concrete Building

All courses excepting Structural Steel Design

Reinforced Concrete I (CI9-STR-02)

Reinforced Concrete II (CI9-STR-09)

Design of Steel Building

All courses excepting  Concrete Structures

Structural Dynamics (CI9-STR-08)

Steel Buildings (CI9-STR-25)

Research Dissertation


Refer to Supervisor

Students that are unable to secure an agreement with a particular academic to undertake one of the design projects or dissertation topics are then allocated to topics following a system that considers the preferences of the students, among other constraints. The overwhelming majority of students tend to be allocated the topic that they are most interested in. 

Specific details about the above process are circulated during the spring term and the process is also described verbally at an earlier date.

Mark scheme for Design Projects/Dissertations


Maximum Mark

Project report

Design Project*


– Evidence of enquiry, creative ability, critical thought

25 (10)


– Level of understanding

20 (10)


– Level of effort, competence and quality of work

20 (10)


– Clarity and style of presentation of report and drawings



Final presentation and defence

15 (5)


Overall mark




Note: The projects also include a research component that accounts for 30% of the final grade.

Marks in brackets ( ) denote the breakdown in mark allocations  to be awarded for work of an investigative nature

Module leaders

Dr Peter Stafford