The difference between architects and civil engineers

Unless you specifically work in the construction sector it’s hard to appreciate the thought, planning, and hard work that goes into bringing a building to life. Be it a residential home or a school, library or hospital. But, one thing these structures all have in common is their start in life. Specifically when it comes to their initial design. And that’s where architects and civil engineers come in.

These two similar (but likewise different) disciplines are the foundation of any new development. But although they go together hand in hand, they also each serve a unique purpose on a build.

The key difference is:

Architecture or architects deal with the aesthetics of a building. The way it looks, flows, and what materials it will (ideally) be constructed from. Their role is to design a building from a visual point of view. Taking on board the clients’ brief and translating this into drawings that fulfil that criteria.

Civil engineers on the other hand, well their role is slightly different. While architects are responsible for the way a building looks, civil engineering ensures that a building is structurally sound. They’re less fluff, more fact. Their job is to ensure that the proposals being put forward are achievable mechanically. As well as within the budget and the timeframe the client has specified for the job.

Or (to put it another way) architects reach for the clouds. Civil engineers have their feet firmly on the ground. They’re a bit like yin and yang in the way they balance one another.

Architects and civil engineers in a little more detail…

In essence a civil engineers job is to take all of the ‘blue-sky’ ideas and proposals put forward by the architect and establish whether or not they’re actually achievable in reality. A civil engineer will look at a number of different elements to reach this conclusion. From the weather conditions the building needs to withstand in its lifetime, to the type of soil that it sits on.

So while architects prepare a drawing of the building (usually from a number of different angles) to give a 360-degree view. And will outline their ideal requirements in terms of building materials, dimensions and proportions, it’s the job of the civil engineer to get down to the nitty gritty. And see if the ideas the architect is proposing on paper can actually work when put into practice.

How civil engineers reach their conclusions

Civil engineers take two things into account when weighing up whether or not an architect’s vision is tangible: maths and physics. They’ll apply complex calculations, as well as considering environmental factors and geology, to determine whether a design will be safely structurally sound. To the exact spec the architect is suggesting.

After consulting with a civil engineer it’s sometimes necessary for an architect to re-think his or her initial vision for the building. Based on the insight the civil engineer has been able to share. Once the new drawings or plans are complete, the architect will again submit them to a civil engineer to check over. And only when the civil engineer is satisfied that everything is achievable (and safe for the long-term) will the design get the green light.

Qualifications needed

If you want to become either an architect or a civil engineer you’ll need to attend a relevant course at university and gain a degree. Both occupations require higher-level training owing to their niche and specialised nature. Particularly in view of the important role they play in a building’s design and ultimately its execution.

In civil engineering in particular a good head for maths and science is essential. So any university will be looking for evidence of this on your application. You may even have to sit tests to prove yourself in these areas. An inherent interest in geology, geography and the environment, are also beneficial for those wishing to follow civil engineering as a career path. But these are things you’ll be taught in training. Together with some essential site management skills as civil engineers are quite often also responsible for overseeing a project’s development at key stages.

In summary

So, to sum up, the difference between an architect and a civil engineer put simply is:

– Architects are the vision behind a building and will primarily influence the way a development looks.

– Civil engineers are responsible for ensuring the plans are mechanically achievable and the building will be structurally sound.

The two work in tandem and each one relies on the other so they’re both equally important to engage from the outset, on any new development.

Civil engineering at Mackoy

At Mackoy Ltd civil engineering and groundworks is what we’re all about. We offer our services to clients based across the entire South of England, from Dorset and Hampshire, all the way through to Berkshire, Surrey and Sussex. And we have extensive experience managing civil engineering and groundworks projects within the private residential and public sector too.

Our clients include the UKs biggest housing developers, from the likes of Persimmon and Redrow, to CALA, Bellway and Barratt. No project is too big or too small for our 300-strong team. So get in contact today to discuss a development you want to get off the ground. Whether it’s civil engineering or groundworks, at Mackoy, we have the experience, the ingenuity and the manpower to get the job done to the highest standard.