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Building a Future: Architecture vs. Civil Engineering

June 16, 2020

Man sits at desk working on technical drafting with computer-aided design software.

Creating an Eiffel Tower or a Hoover Dam is no easy feat. Without the hard work of architects and civil engineers, the world would not see such amazing structural accomplishments. But what role does each position play in the creation of these structures?


Architecture vs. Civil Engineering: Similarities and Differences

Architects and engineers provide essential services to the construction industry, contributing to the creation of contemporary buildings and complex infrastructure projects. While architects are responsible for the design and planning of structures ranging from houses and factories to skyscrapers and museums, civil engineers oversee the entire design-to-completion process for buildings, roads, dams, bridges, water systems, and other major works.


Similarities Between Architecture and Civil Engineering

  • Architects and civil engineers must have strong math and technology skills to create accurate and safe construction plans.
  • Both need analytical thinking capabilities to provide cost, risk, and timeline estimates for clients.
  • Architects and civil engineers should have leadership and management skills to oversee construction contracts and monitor building processes.

Differences Between Architecture and Civil Engineering

  • Civil engineers manage a broader range of projects encompassing transportation infrastructure and water systems, while architects focus on buildings.
  • Architects are more deeply involved in the pre-construction phases, while civil engineers directly oversee all phases of construction work.
  • Civil engineers oversee a variety of workers, including construction managers, architects, and mechanical engineers.
  • Architects spend a majority of their time in offices, while civil engineers divide their time between desk work and direct site supervision.
  • Both roles require a bachelor’s degree and state licensure, but civil engineers often earn advanced degrees to secure a senior position.

Exploring Architecture

Architecture jobs are expected to grow 8% between 2018 and 2028, faster than the average growth rate of 5% projected for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Increased demand for architects is being driven by increases in the construction of homes, offices, stores, schools, hospitals, and other buildings. The BLS reports that architects earned a median salary of $80,750 in 2019. These professionals typically work for architectural and engineering firms or on their own as independent contractors.

Architects’ job duties include using sophisticated software programs to create detailed building plans. They may also submit job proposals and conduct pre-design reporting such as feasibility and site selection studies. Architects meet with clients and engineers during design phases to make sure facility objectives are met. They are available to clients during the construction process, and often visit building sites to make sure all design, material, and schedule requirements are followed.


Essential Architecture Skills

  • Design Skills: Architects are designers, and their art form is the structure of a building. Design skills are something that each architect develops on their own, using hand-drawing and computer-design skills.
  • Advanced Mathematics: As a building designer, knowing advanced mathematics is necessary for calculating not only the stress, strain, and weight-bearing information but also the aesthetic details of a building’s style.
  • Communication: Architects need to understand their clients’ needs, provide updates regarding plan design and construction, and provide clear direction to employees and construction crews.
  • Computer Skills: In addition to having foundational computer skills, architects need to know how to use computer-aided design (CAD) suites and building information modeling (BIM) software that are both architectural and non-architectural in nature.
  • Building Code Knowledge: Building codes vary by locale. For architects to be successful in their jobs, they need to be able to learn and recall the building codes for their particular region.
  • Business Acumen: While some architects initially work for companies, many of them are consultants or freelancers who work on a per-project basis. Others work for themselves and need to know how to run the business elements of an architectural enterprise.

Exploring Civil Engineering

According to the BLS, civil engineering jobs have a projected job growth outlook of 6% by 2028, as growing populations and aging infrastructure drive demand for new roads, bridges, airports, utility projects, and other essential structures. The BLS reports that civil engineers earned a median salary of $87,060 per year in 2019.

During project planning stages, civil engineers conduct surveys, analyze construction sites and materials, and evaluate costs, regulations, and risks related to a project. They also use complex design programs to plan structures and systems. Once construction begins, they monitor worksite processes to ensure structural safety and solve problems as they arise. Civil engineers typically work for engineering firms and state and local governments.


Essential Civil Engineering Skills

  • Technical Skills: Civil engineers must have an understanding of physics and mathematics, as well as the ability to use specialized design software. Computer-aided design (CAD) suites and building design software are necessities for a civil engineer. Additionally, proficiency with scheduling software is a must.
  • Communication: Civil engineers will interact with clients to figure out their needs and pass that information on to construction teams.
  • Project Management: Project management includes scheduling, material listing, and logistics tracking. Engineers also monitor regulations and building standards and must be able to solve any site challenges.
  • Design and Implementation: Civil engineers focus on designing whole systems, such as city sewer lines and other infrastructure projects. The ability to put different parts together into a single working system is a hallmark of civil engineering.
  • Critical Thinking: Civil engineers are typically required to create elegant solutions while working within various limitations such as the laws of nature, regulations, available materials, and public safety. Critical thinking allows them to devise solutions within all these potential problem areas.

Careers in Civil Engineering

The field of civil engineering includes a variety of subdisciplines including environmental, structural, and materials science engineering. Many civil engineers operate in supervisory capacities, creating and managing long-range development plans for cities and counties. Civil engineers play important roles in designing traffic and highway systems; they also play an essential part in making sure that water and wastewater systems function smoothly. Some of the various career paths in civil engineering include:

  • Civil and Safety Engineering: Civil and safety engineering professions include civil engineer, environmental engineer, and water and wastewater engineer. These professionals focus on major public works projects, designing and supervising entire projects or addressing a particular aspect of construction.
  • Engineering Managers: Civil engineering managers oversee the technical and engineering design of projects including buildings and major infrastructure. Duties include coordination and supervision of an engineering team and keeping track of budgets, scheduling, and client communications.
  • Construction Managers: Construction managers oversee a project from planning to completion, making sure that they stay on time and within budgets. Projects include residential, commercial, and industrial structures as well as roads and schools. Titles include construction superintendent, construction site manager, and construction director.
  • Civil Engineering Technicians: Civil engineering technicians work with civil engineers to prepare and review construction plans and blueprints, conduct site inspections, develop cost estimates, and monitor project progress.

Learn More About a Master of Science in Civil Engineering

Civil engineers have vast responsibilities for ensuring the reliability and cost-efficiency of essential construction projects. When looking at architecture vs. civil engineering, the demanding nature of civil engineering careers makes an advanced educational background all the more important. Civil engineers benefit from a higher level of training that can build the confidence needed to complete complex infrastructure projects beyond a single building structure.

Some of the courses a student will explore while pursuing a civil engineering master’s degree program, such as LSU Online’s Master of Science in Civil Engineering, include:

  • Traffic Engineering Operations and Control: This course gives engineers an understanding of traffic regulations, traffic flow monitoring, the design and operation of traffic control systems, and specialized engineering methods including delineation and illumination.
  • Advanced Highway Design and Traffic Safety: This course will introduce students to the theories behind highway design, with a focus on statistical analysis of accidents, solutions for high-hazard locations, and other tactics to improve highway safety.
  • Advanced Bridge Engineering: Students will explore the practice and research aspects of bridge engineering, including design, analysis, and performance assessment.

Learn more about LSU Online’s Master of Science in Civil Engineering degree and how it can help you pursue your civil engineering career goals.


Recommended Readings

How Much Does a Civil Engineer Make?

How to Become a Construction Manager

Building With a Purpose: An Introduction to Lean Construction


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