Structural engineers use basic principles of physics and strength of materials to design and analyze the structures in which we live, work, play, eat, shop and drive. Our number one priority is to provide safe, stable structures. Whether it’s steel, reinforced concrete, wood, masonry or other building materials, a structural engineer determines if the beams, columns, foundations, and other elements of the structure can handle the weight of itself and the loads applied to it (people, furniture, machinery, snow, wind, seismicity… you get the point). Structural engineers not only design new structures, but also inspect and design for maintenance and renovation of existing structures. Although we’re typically associated with designing buildings and bridges, we can work on other structures as well, like roller coasters, concert staging, and silos just to name a few. By using computer aided design and analysis tools, such as Revit and Ram Structural Systems, we not only design structures, but optimize building materials and design efficiency

What is the Difference Between a Structural Engineer and an Architect?

The role of a structural engineer is often confused with that of an architect – we both design buildings. The difference is that an architect is responsible for the layout, look and function of a structure where the structural engineer is focused on the stability of the building framework, or the “skeleton” behind the drywall. In other words, the structural engineer makes the architect’s dream a reality. Structural engineers typically work for, or in conjunction with, architects. It’s the combined efforts that create a successful and long-lasting structure.

What is a Structural Engineer’s Role During Construction?

Structural engineers work closely with construction managers and contractors to build structures successfully and safely. Even though a structural engineer can work for months or even years on the design, analyses and drawings for a project, the job isn’t over until construction is complete. The structural engineer’s involvement is critical to the construction process to confirm the design intent is followed, to answer questions that come up during construction and to respond to unforeseen issues that may arise. Some construction companies have structural engineers that work on their staff to evaluate construction methods.

When Do I Need a Structural Engineer?

Structural engineers work not only with architects and contractors but also owners, design builders and individuals. Getting a structural engineer involved early on in a project can help with project decisions, such as what building materials to use and determining the most cost effective designs. If working on a renovation of an existing structure, a structural engineer should be consulted if there are any modifications to the building framework or load bearing walls, if the intended use of the building is changing or if any large equipment is being added. When in doubt, consult a structural engineer.

Who Hires a Structural Engineer?

Anyone! Traditionally, architects hire structural engineers. However, depending on the project and design team, most any A/E/C firm can hire us. Owners may also hire us directly; like I said, there are benefits to calling us early.

Structural engineers are passionate about buildings. Our designs use the right materials to successfully create a structural layout that fits the design team’s aesthetic and the owner’s needs. If our job is done well, it’s something no one notices.


  • I did not know that structural engineers were so important to make sure that buildings were made correctly and that they are safe to live and work in. Like you said, a structural engineer makes sure that the supporting beams and the overall skeleton of a building is made correctly. They are the ones that make sure that a house can hold you, your family and all of the things that you put in your house.

    • We’re so glad that this article gave you a greater understanding of what it takes to build a safe building. Structural engineering is so important! Thanks for the comment, Dave!

  • As a Structural Engineer myself, it was very interesting to read the article about what qualities and abilities Structural Engineer possess. For a aspiring students, this article gives an understanding of what to expect and contribute in the Structural Engineering field.

    I firmly believe in the statements, “Make the Architecture’s dream into reality”. All the tall structures and bridges visualized would not be possible if it were not because of the effort of problem solving and continuous number crunching by great Structural Engineers.

    In addition, Structural Engineers role is critical when it comes to balance between Safety and Cost. The community of engineers has come a long way to create magnificent structures and progressing everyday.

  • I have several cracked and broken rafters due to a large tree falling on the roof. Do they need to be replaced or can the contractor sister to the broken racers?

    • We would recommend having a structural engineer review your roof to make suggestions on how to repair it. When a roof is significantly damaged by a tree impact, there are other items that might need consideration besides just sistering a new member to a broken rafter. If you’re near our offices in Cincinnati or Columbus, Ohio, we’d be happy to take a look. You can reach us at 800.542.3302.

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