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What Is the Difference between an Architect and Structural Engineer?

By Micah MacBride
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An architect and structural engineer perform complementary tasks in designing buildings. Architects are individuals who concern themselves with the layout and stylistic design of buildings. Structural engineers are the professionals whose expertise ensures that an architect's design is safe and structurally secure.

Extensive education and licensing examinations are generally necessary for both an architect and structural engineer to work professionally. Architects usually study to obtain a bachelor's degree in architecture from an accredited institution. Structural engineers typically earn a bachelor's degree in a field of engineering, frequently in material or civil engineering, though some go on to obtain graduate degrees. Both these professionals usually also must obtain a license from their national or local government in order to do their respective jobs. These licenses usually require that the individual work for a number of years under a professional who is already licensed, as well as passing a special examination.

After these professionals have completed the necessary education and earned licenses to create building designs in their own state, an architect and structural engineer usually work on very different aspects in the design process. Architects speak with the individuals who are commissioning the structure to get a feeling for what the clients want from it. He or she will then take these ideas and translate them into detailed building plans. These include features of every aspect of the building, including floor layouts and the specifics of its structural support system.

A structural engineer then examines the architect's design to ensure its integrity and safety. An architect and structural engineer receive training in similar building fundamentals, but the architect's education specializes in design and aesthetics, while the structural engineer specializes in testing the physics of that design. Structural engineers analyze the distribution of the building's weight among the structural support system. This analysis allows the structural engineer to determine if the building can stand up to the stresses the area's geography and weather and inflict upon it.

Part of the structural engineer's analysis involves the physical properties of the materials which the architect wants to use in different building components. This allows the structural engineer to determine both if the overall design is sound, and if the individual materials will be able to bear their loads. The architect may have to change aspects of the design, or the materials he or she uses in different building components, depending on the contents on the structural engineer's analysis.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1002040 — On Aug 23, 2019

There are many different types of engineers, (Like ingredients that go into making a finished cake) that are involved. My late father was a quality assurance engineer! He was involved in the construction of nuclear power plants!

His role was to walk through say, the huge smoke stacks that would be on top of the plant. He would have the specs and walk thru them before they could be installed on the roof. If there was a chip or a crack of a line in the cement that formed them that was not called for, they were destroyed on his orders and redone.

By anon277991 — On Jul 03, 2012

This text bases itself on common misconceptions about structural engineers. Structural engineers do not only analyze the architects drawings (computer-programs can do that). They design the supporting structural framework. The framework is like a skeleton of the building that retains it within the facades and floors to keep it from collapsing, swaying, vibrating etc. Engineers not only determine the thickens of each member that make up the framework but also their layout. It is a process that can be quite creative. But their design is not visible once the building is complete. Thus they are not recognized as designers.

Structural engineers have more input than architects on projects like bridges and dams (if architects are even involved). On bridges the engineer will determine the layout and size of the members (like pillars, cables, roadway) and thus much of the looks of the bridge. The architects will mostly work on things like textures and smoothing out some rough edges (they will provide finishing touches). Structural engineers can also work on projects like ships, offshore structures and much else.

Architects are important in providing comfort and aesthetics. Engineers are important when it comes to providing safety.

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