- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 17 Jan 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.
Relevant engineering institutes and regulatory bodies include:
- 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.
- Consultant team.
- Engineering Council.
- 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.
 External references
- ICE: The Little book of civilization.
Featured articles and news
Special educational needs: analysing the necessities for inclusion
Can we build cities that anticipate the future?
How to provide affordable, sustainable and healthy urban communities.
The government has launched an ‘Outsourcing Playbook’.
How can we ensure the benefits of off-site construction are realised?
A new theory for managing large complex projects
A vision for digital highways
Finding stone to conserve historic buildings.
If it is not planned properly even a simple activity can kill.
A disgruntled or ignored stakeholder can easily derail your hard work.
Next generation cementitious materials
Still going strong...one of the great buildings of the 20th century.