It’s Complicated: The Ins and Outs of Complex Metal Building

It’s Complicated: The Ins and Outs of Complex Metal Building

Posted on June 28, 2021 by Ceco Building Systems

When architects and building designers think of metal construction, many tend to assume they’re limited to four walls and a roof – basic construction essentially amounting to a box. With advances over the past few decades in every facet of metal construction, nothing could be further from reality. The capabilities and versatility of metal construction have improved drastically, pushing the boundaries of design and surpassing the expectations of architects, designers, builders and clients alike.  

Complex projects like retail establishments, car dealerships, schools and large sporting facilities, which were once thought to be limited to the realm of conventional construction, are now being produced more quickly and efficiently using metal construction methods. 

Customers Come First 

This paradigm shift hasn’t occurred simply because it’s possible, but because customers are demanding more sophistication and complexity in their buildings. They want more than a box. Many want an architecturally pleasing and impressive building, flooded with natural light. Others need a manufacturing facility requiring complex structural specifications for important components like top-running cranes. Oftentimes, municipalities are also demanding more cosmetically appealing buildings for plan approvals. 

Of course, increased complexity can come at an increased cost, but more often than not, it’s worth it. There’s a big difference in complexity between a single-slope, four-walled “box building” and an architect-designed, two-story building with hips, valleys, daylighting and cranes. When building designs become complex, it’s best to involve a Ceco representative up front and throughout the process.  

What Qualifies as “Complex”? 

Though we often use the terms “pre-engineered” or “pre-fabricated”, the truth is all Ceco products are custom-made per order. Every building is custom, but the level of customization complexity is determined by the design requirements of the project. It helps to understand which building conditions can result in the project being considered “complex.”  

Complex Building Conditions: 

Complicated Roof Designs 

Hips and valleys on roofs are one of the most common building conditions that lead to a building being considered complex. 

Aesthetic Features 

Architects are usually hired to make a building more striking, and the embellishments and complex geometries they envision can increase the intricacy of the engineering behind the structure. 

Additional Floors 

Whether it’s a second-level mezzanine or a basement, additional floors add to the complexity of a building. 

Auxiliary Loads 

Manufacturing facilities with structurally mounted equipment such as large top running cranes increase the design loading substantially.  

Long Bays 

Increased spacing between vertical supports is becoming an increasingly common building requirement – especially for indoor sporting facilitieswarehouses and large churches.  

Codes and Loads 

Code changes and local differences for wind, seismic activity, snow, temperatures, energy and occupancy category may require more of the building. Likewise, collateral loads for ceiling-mounted systems such as lights, ductwork and sprinklers can increase the complexity of the building. 


Buildings built to house aircraft typically need very wide, high-fold doors for aircraft ingress and egress, requiring additional structural supports. 

Energy Efficiency  

Metal construction is often chosen for its superior insulating values, and insulated metal panels further improve R-values. Another way to cut energy costs is through the use of daylighting – bringing as much natural light in as possible. Though technology for including daylighting on a standing-seam roof has improved significantly, it still makes for a more complex design. 


When your building meets the criteria for a complex building outlined above, the most important step you can take to save time and money is to involve your Ceco representative early and throughout the process. As Scott Schroer, Ceco’s Engineering Director explains, “Engaging with the architect, the owner, and our customer to help value engineer the building is a huge opportunity.” Complex building conditions require custom solutions from our engineering department. Communication is key, because an engineer can spot problems or complications an architect, builder or customer wouldn’t likely be aware of. They also have the experience and expertise to devise clever fixes.  

Modelling Work 

The inclusion of Ceco early on and throughout the process also means we can take advantage of 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM). This software makes a visual model representing all the complex, interrelated parts of a building’s plan, from the framing and envelope to mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. This assists all the various trades in foreseeing where these complexities might clash or interfere in reality – so we can avoid problems before they arise. 

Pushing The Envelope Together 

Metal construction can be more sophisticated and elegant than ever before – while still meeting and exceeding specific practical requirements. We just need to work together and communicate well. When we work together, we can push the envelope of metal construction and continue to surprise and impress visitors and clients alike. Contact your Ceco representative to get this important group conversation started as early as possible.