Traditionally, structural fire safety is contemplated after the structural engineering is complete for a given building. Specifically, structural systems that have been optimized for ambient design loads are then blanketed with fireproofing. This century-old approach endeavors to reduce the heating of individual structural members with the intent of mitigating the risk of structural collapse under fire conditions. However, project stakeholders may be left wondering if the intended structural fire safety is provided and if a rational use of resources was employed. This differs from almost all other aspects of building design in which these aspects are taken extremely seriously.
As a refreshing alternative to the traditional approach, performance-based structural fire design is beginning to establish a foothold in the United States. Notably, newly developed guidance contained within ASCE/SEI 7, ASCE/SEI Manual of Practice No. 138, and the freely available ASCE/SEI Structural Fire Design Guide provide designers the framework to legitimately practice structural fire design, as well as provide building officials a potent set of tools to properly evaluate such designs. The envisioned endgame of this movement is a gradual transition toward intrinsically fire safe structures that are rationalized optimized. Since structural fire design has the potential to produce buildings that are safer, cost less, and are optimized for stakeholder design objectives such as aesthetics, carbon footprint, and allowance for innovation, the future is certainly bright for this movement.