We often get asked if we do civil engineering, and I’ve learned to ask a few questions before saying “No”
You see, we’re structural engineers, and we’re different to civil engineers, but there’s a language around these words that needs clarification.
Often, the enquirer refers to ‘civil’ as concrete footings, slabs and the like – so it’s lucky I don’t just say no and hang up, because yes, we do that sort of “civil” engineering!
So What’s the Difference?
At university, we graduate as civil engineers, having completed, among many other things, courses in structural engineering. Structural engineering is a discipline of civil engineering.
So that’s the first difference – all structural engineers are civil engineers, but not all civil engineers are structural engineers!
In the workforce, we call ourselves civil engineers or structural engineers, depending on our area of expertise. Civil engineers are involved in different projects and different aspects of projects to those that structural engineers are involved in.
I tend to define the civil engineer as being responsible for the design of infrastructure projects such as:
- Water and wastewater systems
- Bridges e.t.c
Whereas the structural engineer is involved specifically in the design of structures associated with these projects:
- The bridge structure in a road system
- The dam wall
- Draw-off tower in a reservoir
- The structures associated with a water treatment plant
- The signs over a freeway etc.
Structural engineers are focussed on the materials of construction and their ability to withstand design actions.
If a bridge collapses due to insufficient design, it’s a structural engineer’s problem. If the river floods and submerges the bridge due to insufficient consideration of flood levels and climate change, or the traffic is at a standstill most of the day due to insufficient lanes or bottlenecks on approach, it’s a civil engineer’s problem! That’s the difference!
Could be a structural engineers problem!
Not a structural engineers problem
So getting back to concrete. It’s not in itself a civil engineer’s domain. Concrete is a structural material. Drawings depicting structures are structural drawings. Drawings of slabs and footings – these are also structural drawings!
Civil drawings are associated with detailed earthworks, falls, drainage, etc.
As structural engineers, we design any structure in any material (but mostly steel and concrete) to resist any possible combinations of gravity, mechanical and environmental loads to prevent collapse or excessive deflection or vibration.
If you need a civil engineer to design concrete stuff, you actually need a structural engineer. That’s us!
If you need a civil engineer to design a roadway, a culvert, a drainage system, you don’t need us. But we can point you in the right direction.