- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 07 May 2019
Civil engineers design, construct, maintain and improve the physical environment, including; bridges, tunnels, roads, railways, canals, dams, buildings, flood and coastal defences, airports and other large structures. The term ‘civil’ engineer was originally coined to distinguish it from military engineering.
Civil engineering is a broad profession that encompasses a range of subjects that can be developed as specialisms, such as:
Whilst some of these specialisms may be considered sub-disciplines of civil engineering, subjects such as structural engineering (which focuses on the design, assessment and inspection of structures to ensure that they are efficient and stable) may now be considered engineering disciplines in their own right.
In 2007, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Council adopted the following definition of civil engineering, ‘Civil Engineering is a vital art, working with the great sources of power in nature for the wealth and well-being of the whole of society. Its essential feature is the exercise of imagination to engineer the products and processes, and develop the people needed to create and maintain a sustainable natural and built environment.
It requires a broad understanding of scientific principles, a knowledge of materials and the art of analysis and synthesis. It also requires research, team working, leadership and business skills. A civil engineer is one who practises all or part of this art.'
Civil engineers will normally begin the process of qualification by taking a three-year BSc or Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degree or a four-year Masters (MEng) degree in civil engineering. Alternatively, practicing technicians can take a BTEC HNC/HND or foundation degree in civil engineering.
This is likely to be followed by entering a company's graduate training scheme for one or two years and joining a professional body, such as the Institution of Civil Engineers to allow progress towards incorporated or chartered status. Incorporated engineers will tend to work on the day-to-day management of projects whilst chartered engineers may have a more strategic role.
To see some of the modules studied as part of degree courses, see Civil engineering course essentials.
For more information about appointing consultants such as civil engineers, see: Appointment.
- ICE: Institution of Civil Engineers.
- Engineering Council.
- IStructE: The Institution of Structural Engineers.
- IHT: Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation
- IIE: Institute of Industrial Engineers.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Appointing consultants.
- Bridge construction.
- Building design process.
- Building services engineer.
- Capability Brown - proof that engineering for sustainability works.
- Consultant team.
- Engineering Council.
- Forensic investigations: can we trust them?
- Geotechnical engineering.
- How to become a civil engineer.
- Institution of Civil Engineers.
- Institution of Structural Engineers.
- Lead consultant.
- Lead designer.
- Section engineer.
- Site engineer.
- Structure definition.
- Structural engineer.
- Water engineer.
 External references
- ICE: The Little book of civilization.
Featured articles and news
More than just aesthetic and historic values and meanings.
An exciting and novel collaboration between the RIBA and the SPAB.
Republic of Ireland updates to planning and development.
The different types of pile foundation.
Achieving a net-zero carbon UK by 2050.
Responding to an invitation to tender.
Statutory instruments laid in Parliament to amend the Climate Change Act.
How will we pay for infrastructure post-Brexit after EIB has gone?
What can we look forward to in the next few decades?
How they work and why they have been so successful.
Weather louvres can combat the effects of climate change.