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What Is the Difference between an Architect and an Architectural Engineer?
April 13, 2023
Boulder architects and architectural engineers both serve a similar yet distinct role in developing buildings. Although the names sound very similar, it’s essential to understand the difference, especially if you’re planning a building project that requires a specific skill set or want to become an architect or architectural engineer yourself!
We’ll help you parse the confusion on this topic to define architects and architectural engineers, identifying the key similarities and differences between the two occupations and their critical roles.
What Is an Architect?
An architect’s primary role is to design the space that defines a building, both interior and exterior. From start to finish, an architect is a major player responsible for conceptualizing the design and bringing it to life. Usually, an architect designs structures according to the specifications of a client.
Doing so is a mixture of creativity and practicality; the architect must marry their creative vision (or the client’s creative vision) with the functional limitations of physics and the constraints of space to create a sound structure.
The same is true for ergonomic design, which impacts decisions such as where to put the doors and windows. These design elements can be broader, too, impacting the layout of the rooms to optimize them for human use. To apply their skills, architects may take on the following duties:
- Meeting with clients to discuss project expectations, length, and price
- Developing cost estimates and timelines based on project scale, materials, and available labor
- Performing viability tests (or hiring the appropriate experts) on the land or structure
- Using technology, such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD) programs to create prospective drawings of structures for client approval.
- Researching and staying up to date with building codes, requirements, specifications, and guidelines.
- Hiring the necessary contractors and specialists for building and construction
- Overseeing the progression of the project and traveling to the worksite to ensure that they meet the client’s requirements met
What Is an Architectural Engineer?
An architectural engineer, as the name suggests, takes their professional understanding of engineering to apply it in an architectural setting. These engineers take project plans and turn them into reality, using their scientific and mathematical backgrounds to construct buildings according to the provided blueprints.
Of course, architectural engineers also collaborate with plumbers, electricians, and other construction specialists to design a structure that is sound, efficient, and built according to the blueprint provided. They usually work closely with the architect to ensure that they follow the blueprints to the letter, especially concerning the design elements in the building.
These instructions range in complexity, from something as simple as the placement of a door to something as complex as the acoustic design of a room.
Architectural engineers may take on the following roles:
- Examining blueprints to create a plan of action
- Designing and overseeing engineering systems, especially in their area of expertise
- Ensuring that workers are using the blueprint guidelines as intended and that any engineering issues are resolved, particularly in areas of safety
- Testing the engineering systems after construction
What Are the Similarities between an Architect and an Architectural Engineer?
It’s not surprising that architects and architectural engineers are often confused, given that their roles intersect pretty often. Both need to be adept at reading blueprints, and both must have a mechanical understanding of how to ensure that buildings meet all safety guidelines; this includes knowing how all of the systems in a place function, both individually and as a unit.
Some shared skills between architects and architectural engineers include:
- Advanced knowledge of mathematics and science
- The ability to read and comprehend blueprints
- The capability to understand engineering systems
- High-end knowledge of building design and construction
- Strategic knowledge of building codes and safety ordinances
- The ability to delegate responsibility in a construction environment
An architect and an architectural engineer must have expert knowledge of construction and familiarity with several construction systems and methods to execute the blueprints.
What Are the Key Differences Between an Architect and an Architectural Engineer?
The critical distinction between the two roles is that an architect lays more of the foundational guidelines for how the work should be done according to the blueprints, while an architectural engineer is adept at interpreting those instructions, applying them in a real-world setting, and solving engineering problems as they arise.
Does a city planner want a municipal building on Main Street? An architect is just the expert for designing the specific building the planner wants in the right location according to city guidelines with all the accommodations a public building needs. An architectural engineer, by contrast, has all of the know-how to construct those systems through mathematical expertise physically.
Employers may require an architect to have at least a bachelor’s degree in architecture, although many require a master’s degree. These educational courses instill the essential knowledge and skills a designer needs to create project plans and designs that are feasible and functional.
On the other hand, an architectural engineer must generally have a bachelor’s degree in structural or civil engineering, a field heavily reliant on mathematics and an understanding of mechanical systems.
Most licensed architects and architectural engineers have a fair amount of time spent interning under their belts, where they convert their ‘head’ knowledge from their education into practical skills that apply on the job site.
Both occupations require a high degree of credibility and trustworthiness, something you might expect when the safety of all building occupants depends on the high-quality work of the architect and architectural engineer.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, both an architect and an architectural engineer serve vital roles in the construction industry. From start to finish, both are heavily involved in the project to ensure that the constructed building is safe, ergonomic, and built according to the client’s expectations.
Architects in Boulder, Colorado take on the designer role, laying out the foundational instructions for the building. At the same time, the architectural engineer interprets those instructions and either builds the mechanical systems or oversees their construction.
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