Can Civil Engineers Do Architecture?

The two professions are so closely intertwined, is it possible to hire the Civil Engineer as a 2 in 1 job? If I want to build a home and have a design in mind, or if I find plans and a peg online, can’t I just hire the Civil Engineer to do the technicalities of my design? Architecture is not considered engineering and vice versa. Although they work hand in hand and one is not possible without the other. Let’s see why!

Civil Engineers cannot legally practice architecture. Just the same as architects cannot practice engineering — architects should not sign, seal or create engineering plans. Their training and scope of work though closely related is not the same. Civil Engineers are focused on the structural elements and the weight a material can carry under static and dynamic load. This is taken into account combined with the other building systems and its overall stability with the added load. Architects on the other hand  are focused on space planning, area allocation, user behavior and overall design.

Image from Architect or Engineer – What’s the difference? – architects tales (

Should you want to save money and build a simple structure without an architect, this is not a legal practice. Also, architects go beyond designing the aesthetics of your facade. They also study your building through in depth site analysis, space planning, feasibility study, health, economics, other abiding building laws, etc.

We go deeper into the importance of architecture and the architect’s role in other articles on our site. For now, we will focus on the key differences of Engineer and Architect and why both are essential in building your structure.

In each building, several professions are called upon to draft, sign and seal their own plans. An overview of the professionals and their corresponding documents are as follows:

Building ProfessionalDocumentsPurpose
ArchitectFloor Plan, Elevations, Section & PerspectiveHow the building looks and how the spaces are laid out
Civil EngineerBeam and Column Details, Structural FrameworkSpecifies the location, dimensions and strength of materials to be used.
Plumbing EngineerPlumbing LayoutLocation & type of plumbing pipework, fittings, vents and stormwater drainage
Electrical EngineerElectrical LayoutLocation of & type of lighting outlets, power outlets and supply
ContractorBuilding Permits, Work Permits, etc.Supply labor, equipment & materials for the project

As you can see above, it takes many specialties mastering their own profession. Also that the Civil Engineer is mainly concerned with the structural stability of the building.

Different University Foundations

As early as their university years, their curriculums already define their varied roles  in construction. engineering may have a few architecture design subjects and architecture may have some engineering subjects, but these are only meant to understand the other’s work.

Let’s compare the curriculum of both professions in Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. MIT is considered a leading university globally for both civil engineering (Course 1-ENG) and architecture (Course 4) taken from MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology

ENGINEERING                                                                                                                  ARCHITECTURE

Architecture goes on to having several electives on equally art and science between understanding some engineering concepts in building technology, but also a deep study of art history, theory and design: (1&2)

Another comparison stated by the University of Texas in Austin is that (Architectural) Engineering studies focus on the technical aspect of buildings. Its study is centered on how the structure will be built. How can energy usage be lessened? How can construction waste be minimized or HVAC systems be more efficient? Engineering students are on the very technical details of building systems such as identifying particulate matter of pollutants, forensics in a collapse, or the gas emission of materials in air. (3)

Our last example is from the New School of Architecture & Design in California. The architect is pegged as the right brain, being more artistic, creative and theoretical. They would be more in charge of the Design and Project Management. Meanwhile the engineer being the left brain, is precision, mathematical and a system builder has more weight in all math and physics of the building structure.

Both professionals have equal weight in a project’s cost estimations and both have their own professional licenses to obtain.

An architect can further specialize in interior architecture or broadstroke to city planning while the engineer can specialize in the building systems of mechanical, structural, electrical, environmental and industrial. (4)

Roles in a Building

More similarities between the two professionals are that both understand blueprints and floor plans, which are drafted manually or through a computer software like AutoCad. They both use analytical thinking and mathematics to come up with a safe, structurally sound building, taking into consideration the cost and time of the overall project. (5)

As both architect and engineer oversee construction and monitor the building process, how then do they not clash or intersect too much affecting productivity?


“Architect” comes from the Greek word “arkhitektōn” meaning arkhi- ‘chief’ + tektōn ‘builder = “chief builder.” Later in the mid 16th century the French “architecte” appears. (6)

In looking to construct a building, the architect is often the first professional you meet. Architects therefore need to know which professional they need, at what stage to use them, and how to use all their strengths together.

For example, the architect first needs to engage a Geodetic Engineer to do a soil test and survey of the land. Upon these findings and initial designs for the building, the Structural Engineer can then specify sizes, determining the overall skeleton and structure. The Electrical and Plumbing engineers then come in to draw up how the lines will run throughout the building and connect to the main lines.

Architects are usually the spokesperson and mediator of the client. This is why they have heavier input in the pre-construction and conceptual stage, and are typically found more in the office than at the site.

Architects are concerned with the following matters:

  • Allocate the appropriate square meters per room
  • Decide on circulation of users in a space, analyzing space adjacency of rooms.
  • Materials appropriate to the use and nature of space (if wet/dry/exposed to outdoors)
  • Design strategies to combat site challenges such as flooding, noise, traffic, etc.
  • Select materials, colors, volumes and textures to achieve a certain feel or mood appropriate to the space function.
  • Incorporates the client’s needs for future expansion or phases
  • Solve design problems and oversee the details
  • Focuses on communication and presentation skills to be able to pitch ideas to the client
  • Needs to develop skills computer software and mixed media of art to convey design vision
  • Needs extensive knowledge on the building codes, Fire Code, Accessibility Law, Green Building Codes, and others the site may require.

After university, one can further go on to specialize in either the artistic or technical aspect of the profession. Architects can propose what mode of construction will be used, if prefabricated, tensile or plain post and lintel. They cannot however specify the exact dimensions of columns, beam and foundation to be used, the type of concrete mix and size of steel rebars for each structural element.


“Engineer” derives from Medieval Latin, “ingenium”, meaning “engine.” Later on, the term arises as the Middle English “ingineer” and Old French, “engigneor” pertaining to a “designer and constructor of fortifications and weapons.” (6)

When the designs and floor plan schemes of the architect have been approved by the client, engineers are usually engaged to insert the construction details. As their etymology suggests, they are the engine that puts things together to make it work. This is why they play a major role in the construction stage and are often found on site. (5 & 7)

Engineers are concerned with the following matters:

  • Safety of the building to endure everyday and extreme conditions
  • Analyze and evaluate structural integrity of the architect’s design
  • Suggest materials and propose construction systems to achieve the design
  • Monitor construction site frequently at varied weather conditions
  • Help with the allied engineering professions: mechanical, plumbing, electrical
  • Evaluate the costs and risks of a structure
  • Solely handle transportation infrastructure like Bridges, Highways or Train Tracks
  • Solely handle water infrastructure like Dams and Sewer Systems

Why Can’t One Professional Do Both?

Both are highly integral in the design process and collaborate with several stakeholders such as suppliers, the client, inspectors and building officials. Both monitor the cost and timeline of the project and have the occupants’ safety at best interest.

Other key points as to why one professional can’t serve both jobs:

  • Architects and Engineers undergo extensive schooling and both have to actively renew their professional license every few years.
  • Being separate professionals, each has their own set of codes to follow and abide by.
  • Each sign off on building documents for a building permit, specifically indicated “Engineer” and “Architect.”
  • Both having signed and seal documents, they are liable to the building’s integrity. Any errors or damage can be tied to their civil liability, revoking their professional license.

Can A Civil Engineer BECOME an Architect?

This is a big yes. If the person is willing to go through another cycle of school (though hopefully the university credits some units), they might actually become the best architects.

Image from P Ier Luigi Nervi | Tag | ArchDaily

Several “Starchitects” or superstar renowned architects are actually also engineers. Notable personalities in the field are Santiago Calatrava and Pier Luigi Nervi. Both are able to manipulate the physics of the building, like in how thin concrete can be or how far it can span — because they understand the engineering aspect so well.

Does this paint a clearer picture of the two roles? Engineers’ and Architects’ jobs often get confused by the public and also have several cases of not getting along. Without a doubt and despite the disputes, both are integral to shape our built environment.

Image from Aerodynamic Avian Architecture: 12 Bird-Inspired Buildings | Urbanist (



  1. MIT. (n.d.). Engineering (course 1-eng). MIT Bulletin. Retrieved March 2022, from
  2. MIT. (n.d.). Architecture (course 4). MIT Bulletin. Retrieved March 2022, from
  3. CockrellSchool. (2018, December 6). Architectural Engineering vs. Architecture . YouTube. Retrieved March 2022, from
  4. New School. (2020, January 28). Infographic: The difference between architects & engineers. NewSchool of Architecture & Design. Retrieved March 2022, from
  5. LSU Online. (2020, June 16). Building a future: Architecture vs. Civil Engineering. Architecture vs. Civil Engineering | LSU Online. Retrieved March 2022, from
  6. Oxford University. (n.d.). Oxford languages and google – english. Oxford Languages. Retrieved March 2022, from
  7. Civil Mentors. (2020, November 1). Being a civil engineer vs. an architect . YouTube. Retrieved March 2022, from