What is Structural Engineering?
Structural engineering is a specialty within civil engineering primarily concerned with structural stability. This field focuses on all aspects of a building’s or object’s framework to ensure that it is capable of staying upright in all conditions. Projects under their jurisdiction can range from houses to bridges to even roller coasters. In addition to designing these frameworks, structural engineers must account for the types of materials used, the properties of each material and their cost, as well as the environmental conditions the building will have to withstand.
Structural engineers work closely with architects, contractors, urban planners and several other specialized engineers, such as electrical and mechanical. They are often present at construction sites to supervise the making of structural foundations. Structural engineers also oversee the testing of these structures.
Education and Licensing
To become a structural engineer, one must have a degree either in structural engineering, civil engineering (with an emphasis on structures), or architectural engineering. The majority of structural engineers have a masters degree, and few have doctorates. Licensing is required, which is attained after passing the Professional Engineer’s exam for one’s respective state.
A Brief History of Structural Engineering
Structural engineering is the oldest form of engineering, dating back to the ancient civilizations of Rome and Egypt. However, the profession lacked distinction until the 19th century following the rise of the Industrial Revolution. The re-emergence of concrete coupled with the industrial boom created a large demand for individuals who specialized in constructing large, strong and sturdy buildings.
Prior to structural engineers, buildings were unable to scale. Builders resorted to relying on previous designs since they lacked understanding variations in the sturdiness of materials, or how changes in design would affect the structure. Many famous monuments in modern human history are the results of structural engineers. Here are a few famous feats in structural engineering:
- Gustave Eiffel – Eiffel Tower
- Washington Roebling – Brooklyn Bridge
- Peter Rice – Roof of the Sydney Opera House
- Fazlur Rahman Khan – Sears Tower
- Santiago Calatrava – Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge
- Isambard Kingdom Brunel – Great Western Railway
Types of Structural Engineers
The main duty of a structural engineer is to ensure public safety; buildings must be constructed in compliance with industry standards and legal codes. As such, some structural engineers focus on certain structure types (vehicles, bridges, pipelines), building types (residential homes, hospitals, school), or material types (concrete, wood, steel), which create additional specializations within this already specialized field.
Other types of building specialties cater to various natural disasters or elements. Earthquake engineering, fire engineering, and wind engineering are all examples of specialties that focus on making a building more durable to natural disasters and the elements. Some engineers focus on a single aspect of a building’s construction, like its roof or facade.
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