What is Structural Engineering and How Does it Work?

Structural engineering is a subdiscipline of civil engineering in which structural engineers are trained to design the “bones and muscles” that create the shape and form of man-made structures. It is the branch of engineering that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of public works, such as bridges, tunnels, transportation routes, water treatment facilities, and government buildings. In the United States, structural engineers are also involved in military engineering. Structural engineering is a subset of civil engineering, which focuses on the “bones and muscles” of artificial structures.

Structural engineers are responsible for calculating the strength and stability of load-bearing structures to withstand earthquakes, wind, and other natural disasters. They work closely with executive directors, policy makers, and public servants to manifest construction ideas. When a structural engineer is contacted for an assessment of an existing building, they will visually inspect the structure and determine its structural integrity, potential occupant safety concerns, suggest repair techniques, and recommend details to restore the structure to its original conditions. A beam is a structural element that supports loads that are perpendicular to its longitudinal direction.

Throughout recorded history, people have been designing and building ever larger and more sophisticated structures. Structural engineers must understand and calculate the stability, strength, rigidity, and susceptibility to earthquakes of structures built for buildings and non-buildable structures. Depending on the function of the building, building codes and standards can be used to estimate building weight and snow, wind, and earthquake loads on structures. The critical skills that a person needs in structural engineering include a thorough understanding of physics and mathematics.

Students then have the opportunity to develop structural engineering skills through on-the-job training by getting a job in a structural engineering company or with additional studies in a graduate course such as Master of Engineering (Structural). As a structural engineer, I work closely with my clients to understand the function of the project in order to provide a safe, buildable, and economical solution to successfully complete their project. The structural design of a building must ensure that it can stand safely without deviations or excessive movement that may cause fatigue of structural elements, cracking or failure of fixtures or partitions, or discomfort to occupants. Many structures are structurally simple and architecturally directed while other structures such as tensile structures, casings, and grids rely heavily on their shape for strength. Structural engineers can have a more significant influence on the form and aesthetics of these structures than architects.

When a structural engineer visits a construction site or the site of a building or structure to be evaluated, they observe a number of construction-specific elements. Structural engineering is an important field that has been around since recorded history. It involves applying the laws of physics, mathematics, and empirical knowledge to safely design the “bones” and load-bearing elements of man-made structures. Structural engineers are known for their stability and durable construction with a structural shape that can be scaled.

Grace Martin
Grace Martin

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