When Does Architectural Design Become Civil Engineering?

Hundreds of years ago, architects and civil engineers performed more or less the same role – their objective was to create a building that was fit for purpose, be it a rudimentary cow shed or a huge Gothic cathedral. As is the case with so many aspects of life, things have got more complicated as the years have gone by, and technology has developed.

Today, people have higher expectations from a building, and consequently very specific roles have emerged in the construction industry, each with a distinct purpose. Yet still there is often a degree of confusion about where one role ends and another begins.

When does architectural design become civil engineering?

Life and art

Some might think that the architects are the artists, while a civil engineering companies carry out the “practical side” of the building process. However, it is not quite that simple, and by taking a look at this stunning time lapse photography from one of their recent projects, it is hard to deny that civil engineering can certainly have an artistic beauty of its own.

If the architects provide the inspiration, then it is no great leap to say that the engineers provide the paintbrush and the canvas, so who is the real artist?

Architects and Engineers

It is worth taking a step back and understanding the formal definitions of the two roles. Essentially, an architect specialises in the aesthetics and functionality of designing and developing whatever is to be constructed. They are interested in how it look and feels, and in making sure its design is best fitted to its desired purpose.

Civil Engineers will look at the structural elements involved in the design and development process. They set about making it happen, and will focus on the safety, materials and overall feasibility of the construction project.

Teamwork is key

It is already becoming obvious that there is an almost symbiotic relationship between architects and civil engineers, and that neither will get anywhere without the other.

It is also important that they work together from the earliest possible stage in the project. While the architect will clearly be taking the lead at the design stage, he needs the input from the civil engineer to ensure the feasibility of making those designs a reality and to reduce the need to waste time and money in reworks.

Once construction gets underway, the civil engineer will take the lead, concentrating on the physical side of the project, but the architect’s work is by no means complete. He needs to be on hand to see the full realisation of his designs, to discuss any problems that come up during the process of physical construction and to ensure that any changes do not detract from his overall vision.

This interaction applies to every aspect of the design, where each party has specific tasks to fulfil – for example the architect provides the vision for the overall aesthetics of the building, while the civil engineer performs the load calculations and designs the foundations and structural supports to make it happen.

Similarly, the architect might have specifications regarding the materials to be used – it is up to the civil engineer to make sure these are suitable, safe and stable.

Ultimately, the relationship between the two fields of Architecture and Civil Engineering is critically important, demanding high levels of communication and coordination.

Get that right, and a construction project can truly be a work of art.

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