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Architect vs Structural Engineer: What is the difference?

Both architects and structural engineers play integral roles in the development and construction of a building, and they work together to create coherent plans for construction teams to use. 

Despite the fact that these two jobs fulfil vastly different roles, it’s common for people to confuse the two. Which is understandable, given that there are a variety of different titles and roles within the construction industry – it can be hard to keep up. 

Knowing the difference between the two roles , will help you understand their priorities on your project and why some design changes might happen after the initial concepts to incorporate structural requirements.

In this blog, we’re going to explain the differences between architects and structural engineers, to help you understand which would be best suited to a particular project or task. 

What does an architect do?

An architect is a skilled professional who plans, designs and oversees the construction of buildings. 

Architects are usually involved in the construction process from the conception stages right through until the realisation of the design. 

Contrary to popular belief, architects are responsible for more than the design elements of the building. It’s not only their job to consider the aesthetics, but also to ensure the safety of the building and construction. 

Essentially, architects balance the art and science of building design, fulfilling the design brief whilst still ensuring they are safe. 

Architects must be aware of the laws and regulations surrounding construction, to ensure that the designs are compliant, while fulfilling the design brief and functionality as a whole. 

Some of the tasks that an architecture team might help with during your construction project are:

  • Complete a survey of the land
  • Creation of conceptual designs and 3D renders
  • Submission of designs for planning permission
  • Submission of building warrant and technical requirements
  • Help with appointing contractors and trades
  • Project management throughout the building process
  • Help the project stay within budgets
  • Ensure building standards are adhered to

Of course, every project will vary and exactly how your architecture team works will depend on exactly what you need. 

How your architectural team supports you will look different from one architect to the next, but in general, you can expect an architect to be involved in all of the tasks mentioned above.

Related content: Planning permission vs a building warrant: what is the difference?

What does a structural engineer do?

Structural engineers carry out design calculations and analysis of the architectural proposals to ensure the design works structurally to and ensure the safety of the building.

Just like architects, structural engineers play a vital role when it comes to designing a building, however their focus is on safety and structural soundness – as the name would suggest.

In very simple terms, a structural engineer creates the plan that ensures a building or structure will not fall down

It’s their job to ensure that the structure stands the test of time, is capable of withstanding the elements it will be exposed to and that all loads and forces are accounted for on the plans. 

Some of the duties that a structural engineer will work on include:

  • Preparing reports, designs and drawings
  • Making calculations about loads and stresses to ensure the structural integrity
  • Selecting construction materials appropriate for the project
  • Obtaining planning and/or building regulations approval
  • Work with other trades and professionals 
  • Inspect work to ensure it is up to the required standards
  • Providing technical advice where necessary 

Their expertise is required for several aspects of the building process, including electrical systems, sewage, fire suppression, water supply, acoustics and lighting, and other technical matters. 

Architect vs Structural Engineer: Which do you need for your project?

There is certainly a lot of mutuality between architects and structural engineers, but hopefully the key differences are now clearer. 

Architects are more concerned with the building’s appearance, helping you to get the most out of the space with their strong eye for design, attention to detail and project management on and offsite. Whilst structural engineers have more contact with the physics and maths side of things, obtaining the essential calculations to verify structural safety and adhere to regulations.

But who is the most suitable person to hire for your project? 

This will depend on your construction project and the specific tasks that will be required throughout that project. 

Despite having some similarities, architects and structural engineers both have specialist areas in the planned construction of buildings, therefore it will often be necessary to employ both to work on large scale builds. 

You will tend to find that both specialists will collaborate with preferred partners. Working together so often, means they understand how each other operate and to the client it will often feel like they are part of the same team. Therefore speak to your architectural firm about who they work alongside regularly before jumping ahead in the process.

However, for minor renovations, you may not require structural consideration, and an architectural team will be suffice to managing the building regulations in this case.

Related Content: How to choose an architectural designer