What Is the Difference Between an Architect and a Civil Engineer?


Architecture and engineering as we know it today are two distinct higher formations, which share similar scopes and which, therefore, have moments of intersection, but also preserve fundamental differences. Even though this overlapping of activities results in a lack of consensus both in relation to the history of the professions and current professional practice, it is important to highlight the differences and specificities that characterize each of these professions today.
The figures of the architect and the engineer as we know them today appear at different moments in history. In the early days, construction techniques were a collective craft, segmented into different skills and passed on orally from generation to generation. This collective practice of construction began to change on the European continent from the Renaissance on, when graphic representations became a design and communication tool based on new techniques, such as the introduction of perspective drawing, which transformed the way of recognizing, thinking and predict space. It is at this moment that the figure of the solitary architect emerges and it is from there that we begin to recognize important architect characters such as Alberti and Brunelleschi.
Engineering is a discipline of military origin dating back to the 14th century, however, civil engineering emerged with the dedication of some military engineers to design industrial warehouses during the 18th century in England. The first recognized civil engineer is John Smeaton, also responsible for the creation of the Society of Civil Engineers, dedicated to bringing together professionals to conceive and execute great works. From the 19th century onwards, therefore, civil construction is fed by three figures whose scope and history are intertwined: builders, architects & civil engineers.
This division was developed with changes that accompany the evolution of societies and were increasingly determined from their temporal, geographic, political and economic context. While engineering and architecture have become higher education disciplines with diverse areas of specialization, construction itself remains practical work, which can be learned in technical courses, but which is also passed on in construction site practice.
At the same time, on the one hand, civil engineering is a discipline dedicated to the study and development of infrastructure built at different scales, and can be divided into different areas such as water reso-urces, transport, energy resources, sanitation, buildings, management and construction. Within the variety of possibilities, the civil engineer is in charge of technical issues of road projects, hydro-sanitary projects of large territories, for example, at the same time that he can also dedicate himself to work with projects and management of building construction.
Architecture, on the other hand, is the discipline dedicated to the design of spaces that respond to the needs of users beyond their mechanical functionality, bringing reflections based on culture, economics, politics and history, at the same time that it is concerned with the creation of a healthy and appropriate space in terms of temperature, lighting, insolation and acoustics, as well as knowing the construction aspects and management of the work. Architecture is the discipline that is fundamentally related to the design and construction of buildings and it is here that the two disciplines meet: engineering bringing the technical aspects of the functioning of the building, and the architect bringing its qualitative technical aspects.
This relationship is well illustrated in the case of a tall building. In a large-scale project, the architect is responsible for the design of that building, he is the one who makes the architectural project that serves as a basis for the other technical disciplines to then develop their complementary projects, and he is also the one who makes these projects compatible, to work together. The civil engineer approaches to execute the complementary projects, according to their specialties: structures, hydraulics, electrical, etc. A building is the sum of the complementary projects with the architectural design. Its construction, on the other hand, can be managed by both architects and engineers, considering that each stage also requires specific inspections of each area.
This difference is more subtle when dealing with small-scale projects, such as homes, due to its simplicity. Both professionals have general knowledge of the different disciplines that make up a construction, however, as the project becomes more complex, in scale, size and use, it is important to protect the specifics of each area. Even so, it is important to emphasize that the great works of architecture that we have in history, from the beginning until today, are the result of the additon of technical and social knowledge used in the form of construction and therefore, the joint work of these professionals is the key to good projects.
(Writer is a Retired Principal & Educationist. Views expressed are personal)

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