Architectural Engineering – What is it?

image of a high rise building with exterior diagonal bracing.

The elements of this building designed by structural engineers is pretty obvious. Architectural engineers’ contributions? You have to look deeper.

I am frequently asked if I am an Architectural Engineer.  As a practicing Structural Engineer, designing buildings for the most part, usually as a consultant to architects, I generally mumble something about Structural Engineering being a sub-discipline of Civil Engineering, so I am sorta-kinda an Architectural Engineer as well.  As it turns out, I’m right, sorta-kinda.

It’s actually a pretty confusing title.  The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), America’s oldest engineering society, officially recognizes Architectural Engineering and Structural Engineering as sub-disciplines (they’re also called practice areas) of Civil Engineering.  ASCE even supports Institutes for each practice area, cleverly named the Architectural Engineering Institute (AEI) and the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI).

According to ASCE’s AEI;

Architectural engineers generally specialize in one of a number of disciplines related to building design and construction including: structural engineering; electrical engineering (with an emphasis on building systems design); heating, ventilation and air conditioning; lighting; or construction. Each specialty area requires very different talents and responsibilities; however, all architectural engineers have a common interest in buildings.

And ASCE’s SEI defines the practice of Structural Engineering as follows ….. actually there is no definition at the SEI website for the practice of Structural Engineering.

My father-in-law believes structural engineers design the skeletons of jumbo jets – and he is right. But structural engineers also design parts of bridges, cranes, buildings, machine parts, space stations, ships, tunnels …. you get the picture.  Structural Engineers’ design skills cross a lot of disciplines.

So next time I’m asked if I’m an Architectural Engineer, I’ll say yes.  I am a Civil Engineer, licensed as a Professional Engineer (P.E.) in Virginia and California, specializing in the practice area of Structural Engineering and licensed as a Structural Engineer (S.E.) in California, Oregon, and Washington, with a particular emphasis on building design.  So just like a building’s HVAC design team, electrical engineer, lighting designers and construction management team, yes – I’m an Architectural Engineer.