Turns out that structural engineering is a pretty important step in the process of designing a home, especially a non-traditional home, since a structural engineer essentially figures out a way for your house to not fall down. I don't really know enough to sound intelligent about it, but basically lots of things want to make your house fall down. There's gravity, live load, dead load, snow load, earthquakes, wind, and fairy tale wolves. After getting recommendations from the architects, the builder and one of my clients, we interviewed several and had them submit proposals. I found the choice to be a bit stressful because I was trying to balance several priorities, budget being a pretty big one, while still feeling confident that they could engineer to everyone's satisfaction what will end up being a pretty unique structure.
Since our house is not going to be a traditional structure we needed to make sure that the engineer understood this and was prepared to interface with the architects and brainstorm with them to figure out how to make certain of our design elements work. Since steel frames are probably out of our budget, it is important too that they figure a way for us to do this with traditional wood framing. We finally hired our engineers yesterday and they are meeting with the architects today to get going on the process. This is good, because it really was the next step before we could go much further with the design. We need to know where and how big the shear walls need to be before we can make meaningful decisions on the windows and door openings. Our hope is that after their meeting today, the architects will have a good enough idea to have those things ready for us to look at at our meeting on Thursday.
So, after architects and engineers have worked together a bit and we generally know what is possible and settle on our final design, the engineer will take the plans created thus far and figure out how to support the structure so that none of the above referenced forces can make the house fall down.