Danielle Larrabee
Danielle Larrabee
February 17, 2020

What's In Store for the Structural Engineering Discipline with Brian Alesius

Danielle Larrabee
Danielle Larrabee

To celebrate Engineers Week this year, we are highlighting our engineering leaders from across the firm. Brian Alesius, PE, has been with CannonDesign for over two decades and leads a team of structural engineers who work with our architects to turn design concepts into reality.

How many years have you been with CannonDesign?

Almost 21 years.

How many years have you been in this discipline leadership position?

Two years.

How many team members do you have and in how many offices?

There are 20 talented structural engineers spread across four offices (Boston, Buffalo, Chicago and St. Louis).  Each office has an exceptional leader with a great group full of brilliant and creative engineers. I’m always impressed with the work we produce.

What is your favorite thing about your role?

My favorite thing is that we get to start with a thought, a concept, some lines on paper and get to turn it into a building that is unique and designed for a special purpose. We have great clients that allow us to think outside of the box when it comes to designing structures to meet their needs.

I truly enjoy the people I get to work with here at CannonDesign. They are extremely talented and passionate about their work.  I’ve developed great relationships with people around the country through the projects I’ve worked on.

And, to cap it all off, the buildings we design serve a greater purpose— they heal, educate and help people lead better lives.

As structural engineers, how are you thinking differently when taking resiliency into consideration?

Structural engineers design structures to be resilient against a probabilistic event, such as a design wind or seismic load that the building may never see in its service life.

Hurricanes are getting stronger and tornado information is becoming more accurate. Building codes are adapting and providing more information regarding these events. At CannonDesign, we incorporate these requirements into our structures while maintaining the design intent and aesthetics of the building.

At the new Luther Burbank School in Illinois, the structural team designed a gymnasium that functions as a tornado shelter. The shelter is capable of withstanding wind pressures in excess of 200 pounds per square foot and protects its occupants from flying debris. The design team was able to integrate these structural requirements into the architectural context of the school without sacrificing aesthetics.


The new Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach Florida is a beautiful 8-story building. The structural team was able to integrate a structural system into the building capable of resisting a category five hurricane with wind speeds up to 186 mph. The building is also designed to remain operational in a 100-year flood.

What has gotten you excited to see recently?

The use of mass timber is gaining a lot of momentum in the United States. The building codes are changing and progressing to allow for more opportunities with this material. Mass timber is a sustainable material and a way for structural engineers to express the structure as a part of the architecture. Personally, I’m a fan of exposed natural materials in structures. It connects the structure with nature and timber creates a warm inviting space.

At the Potomac School, we were able to combine conventional systems such as steel and concrete with mass timber. We used different materials in the manner in which they were best suited. For example, concrete was used for the below-grade spaces for durability, steel joists for the long span over the gym where the depth was limited and glulam beams and columns over the track and at the entrance roof.

How have you seen the engineering team as a whole evolve over the years at CannonDesign?

Engineering as a whole has been on a path of growth since I started in 1999. People I started with are now a part of the leadership team. It has been great to see them grow into these positions with the experience and knowledge that has been instilled in them from our predecessors. Former leadership always had great pride in our people and the people we hire. They understood that people are our most important asset and they had taken an expressed interest in their careers and professional growth. This approach has paid off in dividends for the engineering group.

What is your favorite hobby?

Mountain biking or snowboarding, can’t decide.

Tell us a little bit about your family.

I couldn’t be prouder of my family. I have a son Ethan 12, daughter Maggie 15 and wife Heather. Ethan is a great athlete, he is outgoing and willing to give anything a try. I love to watch his games and admire his determination on the field. My daughter Maggie is a sophomore already, I can’t believe it. She is on the swim team and has excelled as a student.  She is much smarter than I was at her age, taking classes I didn’t take until college. My wife is an exceptional woman, and I can’t thank her enough for all she does for our family.

Life is hectic at this point in my life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As we head into 2020, how do you see your discipline evolving in the next decade?

2020 will be an exciting year for the structural group. We will be increasing our geographic reach by starting a structural group on the west coast. We hope to have structural engineers in California by late spring. For the longest time, working on the west coast has been just out of our reach due to distance and licensure issues. Recently we have begun to work with a couple of California offices on a few projects and we currently have multiple projects in for plan check with construction to begin in the spring.