This paper describes a coupled knowledge-based system (KBS) for the design of liquid-retaining structures, which can handle both the symbolic knowledge processing based on engineering heuristics in the preliminary synthesis stage and the extensive numerical crunching involved in the detailed analysis stage. The prototype system is developed by employing blackboard architecture and a commercial shell VISUAL RULE STUDIO. Its present scope covers design of three types of liquid-retaining structures, namely, a rectangular shape with one compartment, a rectangular shape with two compartments and a circular shape. Through custom-built interactive graphical user interfaces, the user is directed throughout the design process, which includes preliminary design, load specification, model generation, finite element analysis, code compliance checking and member sizing optimization. It is also integrated with various relational databases that provide the system with sectional properties, moment and shear coefficients and final member details. This system can act as a consultant to assist novice designers in the design of liquid-retaining structures with increase in efficiency and optimization of design output and automated record keeping. The design of a typical example of the liquid-retaining structure is also illustrated. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V All rights reserved.