AESS: New and Improved Category System

November 15, 2019Thought Leadership

Associate and Senior Discipline Lead in our structural engineering group, Sarah Willis, PE, and Project Engineer, Makenzie Kuntz, PE, recently gave a presentation for Reliance Architecture on the new category system for AESS. AESS, or Architecturally Exposed Structural Steel, is any exposed fabricated structural steel members including, but not limited to anchor rods, base plates, beams, columns, bracing, canopy framing, etc.

The intention is to explain the new category system, defined by AISC, so there is no room left for interpretation, as well as to discuss how changing the level of AESS will affect the overall budget and timeline of the project. This provides both architects and engineers a method for communicating the final appearance to fabricators and erectors.

Sarah and Makenzie began by clearly defining the roles of the architect and the structural engineer. The architect’s job is to communicate their vision to Dunaway’s structural engineers by locating areas of exposed structural steel. Dunaway then documents these locations on our structural drawings and follows the design through the submittal review process. This provides the critical information to fabricators and detailers, who typically look to our drawings as the primary source of information for structural steel, including AESS.

tavolo park amenity center fort worth structural engineeringThey also gave a detailed overview of the characteristics of AESS categories and how they affect the budget and project timeline. The categories include ‘basic elements’, ‘feature elements’ (closer or farther than 20 ft), ‘showcase elements’, and ‘custom elements.’ Each category has a greater effect on cost and timeline than the one before, which must be considered when choosing AESS.

In keeping with their vision of clarity, the category descriptions were aided by clear visuals and accompanied by a breakdown of what to consider when choosing an appropriate category. These include: the location, fire protection, visibility, and viewing levels.

As structural engineers, Sarah and Makenzie enjoy finding opportunities to expose the beauty of the structure which aids the architect’s vision. The AESS categories and guidelines showcased in this presentation are bringing clarity to this goal.


Dunaway Sarah WillisSarah Willis, PE is an Associate at Dunaway and serves as Senior Discipline Lead in our structural group. She is proficient in the design of steel and concrete framed buildings and clash detection and has successfully designed and managed the coordination efforts on many complex projects including K-12 education, higher education, healthcare, sports, hospitality, religious, commercial and government projects.



Dunaway Makenzie KuntzMakenzie Kuntz, PE is experienced in the design and construction phases of hurricane-prone commercial, municipal, K-12 education, and residential buildings within the Coastal Bend region of Texas.