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.