September 7, 2015

There are several similarities between architects and structural engineers and many people confuse the two. For one, when you look at the job description, they seem to be similar and secondly, they often work side by side on many projects. But, there are numerous differences and clear distinctions that separate the two professions.

To simplify, the architect’s job is to focus more on what structure will eventually look like once the project is complete. They have a vision of the functionality of a building. Architects are kind of “exterior decorators” but with the full knowledge of what everything should look like, where things go and what purpose will they will serve in the long run.

On the other hand, the structural engineers are responsible for the skeleton of the structure and all aspects of what goes into making that piece solid. A well-supported structure weighs heavily on the skills and calculations of the engineer. It’s extremely important for the structural engineer to deliver a final product that not only ensures the effective project in the long term but also considers safety of the general public.

All in all, although structural engineers and architects both work towards making the final product design live up to all expectations, each have their own area of focus.

From many years of experience, I have come to the conclusion that architecture is about a lot more than simply aesthetics. The architect is a sort of high-level engineer, in that he solves high-level problems like how to make the most of a site for the purpose of living, or playing concerts, or holding an art exhibitions They might not know the tensile strength of steel beams like a structural engineer would, but they will know that putting the more private areas of the house further away from the entrance maximises wellbeing.

A good analogy might be the late Steve Jobs, who was not really an engineer or a pure designer, more someone who understood how to put together a variety of fields (or knows enough to be able to hire the right people in each and coordinate them) so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Architects & Engineer’s are really good at what they respectively do. 

Engineer’s are really good at breaking down a building into the individual components and understanding the materials behaviour in the given case taking into account all influencing conditions from loading, soil conditions and to the natural elements.

Using this information the engineer then calculates and designs the structure for these given factors.

Architects are trained in a variety of subjects on how to put a building together to satisfy the requirements of the client while keeping the building within the requirements of the various legislation regarding the built environment and satisfying the aesthetic value of the building.

Although most architectural degrees concentrate on aesthetics, the architect also has to study and know about shapes, forms, ergonomics, human behaviour, building laws and standard materials. Additionally, they are expected to understand structures, building services, energy efficiency, green building, environmental legislation, town planning, natural lighting, safety distances, pollution control, the correct placing of door handles, switches, sanitary fittings, furniture design, etc.

I overheard somebody once saying that architects are artists of the profession whilst engineers are the orthopaedic surgeons who put the bones in the structure. Both the architects and the engineer work together to make the final product live up to expectations, but the real test is weather the structure stands the test of time, the factor which is reliant on the work of the structural engineer.

Green Structural Engineering are always looking to develop long lasting relationships with architects to ensure the quality and safety of modern building projects.

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