The difference between architects and structural engineers is not easy to describe at first.
If you think about it, both job profiles deal with designing buildings. So if both these titles deal with the same work, why is there a distinction between them anyway?
Don’t worry; you’re not the only person who can’t wrap their heads around this topic. In this article, we’ll attempt to highlight the differences between the two job titles. How many years of qualification does each job need? Is studying for one more challenging than the other? Which of the two is the right job for you?
Make sure you read till the end to find the answers to all of your questions. Let’s begin.
Structural Engineers And Architects
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Many of the modern cities and urban planning structures we see today are the works of not one but several groups of people. While the builders, developers, and governments are applauded for achieving these elaborate plans, the architect and structural engineer bring the vision to life.
In the construction industry, both positions hold value since they work together from the initial sketches until the building is complete. While we agree that building projects cannot function in the absence of either role, we must understand that they are different jobs with distinct purposes.
Furthermore, it might be difficult to segregate the two since both professionals put on multiple hats for implementing a project or building.
But when it comes to construction, design, evaluating materials, the focus of architects and structural engineers is quite different. Primarily, you’ll find the glaring difference in their education requirements that are specialized in their own right.
Mainly, structural engineers design buildings. But their main focus is on the practicality and safety aspect of the building structure. It’s their job to select the right material required for the construction of the project. They also calculate the dimensions of the frame so that the end result stands firmly in place without moving or bending.
What Does A Structural Engineer Do?
A structural engineer primarily designs and inspects buildings or other projects like dams, tunnels, or bridges. They make sketches, computer-aided or 3-D models to design the building or project. Their number one priority is ensuring the safety standards, correct weight load, and appropriate size of the frame.
When it comes to inspection, a structural engineer will check the location and building site thoroughly. Since this job is a branch of civil engineering, the professional needs to check the actual ground where the building will eventually stand.
Another responsibility is to think on their feet and solve any issues that may arise in the structural aspects of the building. Safety and stability are a structural engineer’s main concerns, and they primarily work towards achieving these goals.
However, just because this is a technical job, that doesn’t mean communication skills are not important. A structural engineer needs to collaborate and work with clients and construction managers to ensure the smooth operation of the project.
To obtain the position of a structural engineer, an undergraduate degree focused on physics and math is a must. Apart from that, an advanced degree in structural engineering is required.
Some of the main courses in a structural engineering course include structural dynamics, decision and risk analysis, structural analysis, probabilistic load and design, and earthquake engineering.
2. Training And Experience
Luckily, there is more than one way to work as a structural engineer. Students can complete the three-year undergraduate course to become eligible for proceeding to the Master’s level qualification. After these five years of education, training is required to gain experience in the field.
But, this isn’t the only way to land a job as a structural engineer. Some students take apprenticeship schemes right after school and learn the ropes while working on a junior level. Another way one can hope to work in this field is by applying for a pre-university or diploma-level program that can last a couple of years, depending on the course.
Once the course duration is complete, they can work for construction companies as trainees and work their way up from there. One interesting fact is that around 70% of structural engineers have Bachelor’s degrees in the USA.
Also, only 20% hold Master’s degrees, so that should make it clear that educational qualifications are not always essential for this job profile. That being said, there will be a broader range of opportunities for those who hold degrees than those who don’t.
The salary for every structural engineer will not be the same, of course. Factors like location, work experience, qualifications, and a license will definitely play a role in the individual salary. According to a study conducted by Indeed.com, structural engineers in America earn around $84,000 annually.
However, there is no doubt that licensed professionals are offered higher-paying jobs compared to those without a license. Similarly, city-based professionals almost always tend to get higher wages than engineers in smaller towns.
4. Work Environment
Work hours and work environment for structural engineers can vary depending on the company they work for. Professionals who work with contractors have field-based job in which they are supposed to visit the construction site often. They are required to oversee the construction progress and check that everything is going as per the plan.
Alternatively, some consultancies hire structural engineers. These jobs are heavily office-based and are mainly related to the design, planning, and revision aspect of building. Out of the two, working with contractors is definitely the more difficult job.
This is because it requires traveling to the site, working long hours every day, and sometimes managing irregular hours. Compared to that, jobs at consultancies are much easier with their fixed working hours.
Structural engineers can also find work with local, government, and electric and utility companies.
An architect designs and builds the environment taking both physical and practical space into account, along with a focus on aesthetics. They are responsible for how the building will look from the inside as well as outside. Keeping track of project details, budget, deadlines, and progress are also part of an architect’s job.
What Does An Architect Do?
So, what exactly does an architect do? Although architects take part in most of the aspects of building, they are not as involved when it comes to technical build structures and foundations. Instead, they take an active part in the design of the building, coordinating with the client, material specification, and the overall functionality of the structure.
Architects are primarily concerned with the aesthetic, appeal, and feeling the structure exudes. Thus, it is no surprise that they are responsible for selecting the appropriate color and material to be used. They also determine the indoor spacing to cater to the client’s needs- whether that be for personal use or a business setting.
Students need to complete five years of Bachelor’s and Master’s programs with a license certificate after two years to qualify for jobs.
Undergraduate degrees focus on design, art, visual representation, illustration, and some courses related to the applied math and fundamental physics. Knowledge of building materials, construction, architectural structures around the world, computer simulations, and design communication are also taught in these courses.
2. Training And Experience
As you may already know, securing admission to a university program for architectural studies is quite difficult. It is a competitive course, and the requirements for each state or university are different. But most colleges in the USA offer a degree in architecture after completing a seven-year program, more or less.
If you wish to go this route, the first two steps are clearly laid out. One must complete a Bachelor’s course in architecture followed by a Master’s level qualification. The total of these two courses comes up to five years of education in total.
After this, the student is required to gain two years of real industry experience before appearing for the licensing exam. Apart from being long and tedious, this course can also get pretty expensive. Most architects gain experience from architectural design firms.
In general, architects make more money than structural engineers. Indeed.com states that a structural engineer in the USA takes home a salary of approximately $84,000 on average . On the other hand, an architect makes around $93,000 per year.
4. Work Environment
Most architecture jobs are based in office spaces, and they rarely need to move out of the office space. Still, they have to attend client meetings, visit clients, and sometimes check the building site. Companies have fixed working hours for architects, but these are usually never followed.
It is common to work overtime almost every day, and thus, work hours throughout the week can be pretty long.
What Is The Key Difference Between A Structural Engineer And An Architect?
After going through some of the tasks structural engineers and architects are required to perform, you must have noticed an overlap. But the primary difference between the two professions can be narrowed down to one simple factor. A structural engineer doesn’t work on the final look of the building, whereas an architect plays a massive role in the final appearance.
While architects focus heavily on aesthetics, looks, and design, they do not need an in-depth understanding of math and physics. That’s the complete opposite of structural engineering because you can’t possibly hope to become one if you skip these two courses. Although an architect needs basic knowledge of these subjects, it is the engineer’s job to keep the building safe and in good shape.
Besides this, another difference is that structural engineers have the expertise to work with all kinds of buildings and structures or infrastructure. But architects work only on buildings and no other type of structure.
What Are Architectural Engineers?
As confusing as it may seem, architectural engineering is another type of job profile in the design and construction world. The main work includes assisting project managers and architects to ensure that the structure of the building remains intact and sound. Technical aspects and knowledge of safety, building codes, and appropriate noise management are mainly handled by architectural engineers.
Even before the building projects begin, the architectural engineer checks building blueprints, structural design documents, and other technical drawings. Reviewing these plans beforehand makes the work of the engineers and architects easier allowing them to construct the structure safely.
Education, Salary, And Work Environment
A bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering is the only way to secure employment as an architectural engineer. The program will include various courses that relate to engineering as well as architecture, making it a unique blend of the two lucrative careers. The courses included are fundamentals of physics, engineering design, architectural illumination, drafting for design, and the study of electrical systems.
There may be some variations in requirements and qualifications depending on the location of your workplace. But some states ask for a licensing exam certificate along with four years of work experience as an essential criterion.
When it comes to salaries, architectural engineering can help one make as much as $100,000 annually. Also, after gaining years of experience, a professional can graduate to the position of architectural engineer manager.
Long story short, architects focus on how the building will look on the inside and the outside. On the other hand, structural engineers work mainly on skeletal structures and are concerned with improving the safety aspect of buildings.
After this extensive comparison, we hope this guide helped clarify the differences between structural engineers and architects. To simplify, we can say that architects lean toward the creative side of construction and design while structural engineers have a technical approach. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments section below.
We’ll be back with more interesting guides soon. So, stay tuned!