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Last edited 09 Aug 2021
Structural engineers design, assess and inspect structures to ensure they are efficient and stable. Structural engineering was traditionally considered a sub-discipline of civil engineering, however, it has developed as an important and complex specialism and is now recognised as an engineering discipline in its own right.
Structural engineers work on a very wide range of projects, including buildings, infrastructure and other structures. 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 and surveys.
- Geotechnical and geological investigations.
- The preparation of briefing documents, feasibility studies and options appraisals.
- The preparation of tender documentation and the assessment of tenders.
- Assessment and integration of work by specialists.
- Environmental studies.
- Material investigations.
- Ground improvement studies.
- The structural design and detailing of foundations, retaining walls buildings, roads, bridges and so on.
- Assessment of special loads.
- Fire protection of structures.
- Demolition assessment and design.
- Building regulations submissions.
- Risk assessment.
- Value management.
- On-site inspection and testing.
- Defect assessments the the development of remediation solutions.
- Expert witness testimony for courts and insurance purposes.
Structural failure can be devastating. It is important therefore to select an individual or company that has a good track record and experience in structurally similar projects. Suitably qualified professionals will generally be Chartered or Incorporated Engineers who are members of the Institution of Civil Engineers and/or the Institution of Structural Engineers.
Members of such institutes will generally be required to maintain their professional competence through an ongoing programme of continued professional development (cpd), to hold professional indemnity insurance and to comply with a code of practice.
It is good practice to employ a structural engineer based on their capability, competence and quality rather than simply by the lowest fee. A good design that explores a wide variety of options to find the best solution can save significant costs over the life of a building.
John Nolan, Institution of Structural Engineers President 2012 said in his Presidential Address; "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." This concept is in use now by the structural engineers.
To see some of the modules studied as part of an engineering course, see Construction engineering management course essentials.
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