What Does a Structural Engineer Do?

Structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering, and its applications are diverse. A great deal of what structural engineers do involves designing structures such as buildings, bridges, tunnels, etc. The majority of structural engineers work primarily as consultants to architects or design-build contractors. The architect or design-builder comes up with a building layout, and then it's the structural engineer's responsibility to calculate the loads (such as snow, wind and earthquake forces), fit the structure to the architecture, and decide on what structural systems to use. The structural systems include steel, concrete, masonry, wood and other materials from which the engineer selects beams, columns, and other members that make up the building support. If one considers the human body as analogous to a building, structural engineers would be the professionals that design the skeleton so that the body can support its weight and other forces that act on it.

Though structural engineers generally are involved with the design of new buildings, they are sometimes involved in the demolition or dismantling of a structure, either permanently or in order to repair it. They also inspect structures both during and after construction to ensure that they are properly constructed.

Because the work of structural engineers is closely tied to public safety, they must be registered with the state in which the practice in order to demonstrate their abilities. Generally speaking, a registered engineer has at a minimum a bachelor's degree in engineering and at least four years of experience working under the supervision of a registered engineer. After obtaining these credentials the engineer must pass a licensing exam and after passing the exam the engineer can then practice as a registered engineer.