Structural engineers design, assess and inspect structures to ensure that they are efficient and stable. Structural engineering was traditionally considered a sub-discipline of civil engineering, however, as it has developed as an important and complex specialism it may now be considered an engineering discipline in its own right.
"Structural Engineers do for £100 what any fool could do for £1million" is often quoted to describe their work.
Structural engineers work on a very wide range of structures, including; buildings, bridges, oil rigs, ships and aircraft. It is both a technical and creative role that involves close collaboration with professionals from other disciplines.
The scope of services provided by a structural engineer might include:
- Site appraisals - strength of subsoil / ground.
- Geotechnical and geological investigations - loading and foundation design.
- Supervision of surveys.
- Flood analysis.
- Contributing to the preparation of briefing documents, feasibility studies and options appraisals.
- Contributing to tender documentation and assessment of tenders.
- Assessment and integration of work by specialists.
- Environmental studies.
- Investigating materials.
- Ground improvement.
- Retaining walls.
- Foundation design.
- Structural design and detailing.
- Special loads.
- Fire protection to the structure.
- Building regulations submissions.
- Risk assessment.
- Value management.
- Site inspection.
- Witnessing tests.
- Developing remediation solutions.
- Expert witness testimony for courts, and insurance purposes.
- Aesthetics and beauty.
A number for search engines are available to help clients find an appropriate structural engineer:
Structural failure can be devastating. It is therefore important to select an individual or company that has a good track record and experience in structurally similar projects. Suitably qualified people include Chartered and Incorporated Engineers who are members of the Institution of Civil Engineers and/or the Institution of Structural Engineers. The amount of professional indemnity insurance cover held by a consultancy must match the size and value of the undertaking.
It is good practice to employ a structural engineer based on the quality of their design rather than the lowest fee. A good design that explores a wide variety of options to find the best solution can save significant cost over the design life of a building. For example the experience of McDonalds:
"One thing I am particularly proud of from that time is the contribution we made in value engineering the now ubiquitous McDonald’s 'drive-thru' down to a third of the cost and a third of the construction time of the traditionally built design. We did this by standardising the design to a structure that could be factory engineered and fitted out, transported to site in x6 3m by 12m modules and founded on prefabricated foundations. This concept has since saved hundreds of millions of pounds worldwide."
John Nolan, Institution of Structural Engineers President 2012 (quote from his Presidential Address)
To see some of the modules studied as part of an engineering degree course, see Construction engineering management course essentials.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Appointing consultants.
- Building information modelling.
- Civil engineer.
- Collaborative practices.
- Concept structural design.
- Consultant team.
- Consultant team start-up meeting.
- Detailed design.
- Detailed structural design.
- Engineering Council.
- Engineering the World - VandA Museum.
- Geotechnical engineering.
- Institution of Structural Engineers.
- Lead consultant.
- Lead designer.
- Limit state design.
- Professional indemnity insurance.
- Section engineer.
- Services engineer.
- Specialist designers.
- Structural engineering codes.
- Structural principles.
- Structural steelwork.
- Structure definition.
- Types of structural load.
 External references.
Featured articles and news
What is liquidation and how does it apply to contractors in the construction industry?
Scrutiny is placed on Carillion's controversial 2013 decision to extend subcontractor payment terms to 120 days.
RSHP unveil their involvement in a boundary crossing which will provide a new entry point into Hong Kong.
With PFI currently under the spotlight due to Carillion, this introductory article explains what they are.
Estimates suggest that up to 30,000 small firms could be at risk of non-payment as a result of Carillion's collapse.
Sir Oliver Letwin to lead an independent review into the delays in the delivery of housing.
As Carillion collapses, read our article explaining insolvency in the construction industry.
43,000 jobs at risk as Carillion declares insolvency..
1961 saw the publication of three important books about urban design that remain relevant today.
Next week the planning fee increases by 20% and new fees are introduced.
How the transformative power of BIM and other digital technologies can be used to gain a competitive edge.