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What is Architectural Engineering?

By H. Schonthal
Updated May 23, 2024
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Architectural engineering is the branch of engineering concerned with the application of engineering principles to the design and construction of buildings and other structures. In architectural engineering, the focus is on the systems used to construct new buildings or restore older ones. These systems include the building structure itself, the lighting, sound, and electrical systems, and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Other engineering systems include the plumbing structure, fire safety systems, and energy conservation. Architectural engineers are responsible for coordinating these systems and making sure they are designed and built properly, safely, and economically.

The field of architectural engineering is a collaborative one. Architectural engineers work closely with architects and other engineers to design and construct buildings that reflect the architect's artistic vision. Architects generally focus on the aesthetics and functionality of a building project. In contrast, architectural engineers troubleshoot preliminary designs from a technical standpoint and solve problems that arise before and during construction. In the case of a tall office building, for example, an architectural engineer might make recommendations about what materials to use based on their ability to withstand high winds or heavy snowfall.

Architectural engineering is a unique discipline within the broader engineering framework. A bachelor's degree from an accredited engineering program is needed to get a job as an architectural engineer. Most engineering programs take four years to complete, though some take five years. Course work during the first two years is varied, with students taking humanities classes in addition to courses in math, basic sciences, introductory engineering, and computers. During the final years of an engineering program, students take mostly engineering courses, usually with a concentration in one branch of engineering.

To concentrate in architectural engineering, students take courses to prepare them to work as professionals in the field. These include courses in design, structural engineering, electrical engineering, thermodynamics, and construction management. Students also study architectural history from a design viewpoint. Architectural engineers use their knowledge of math, physics, and engineering to make sure building projects are structurally and functionally sound.

Job opportunities in the field of architectural engineering are varied. Many architectural engineers work as consultants in the construction industry, usually in an office-based setting. Their work also includes visits to construction sites, often in different locations. Some architectural engineers choose to focus on specific engineering challenges, such as construction in earthquake zones or energy efficient construction. Many architectural engineers eventually choose to work for themselves by starting their own consulting companies.

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Discussion Comments

By anon282031 — On Jul 26, 2012

Why there are fewer colleges for architectural engineering? Is it because this course is really difficult?

By Ivan83 — On Jun 30, 2011

I have some background in engineering having taken some preliminary courses in college. I am now about to go back to school and wondering what I should do and I have been considering architectural engineering pretty seriously. My question is this, what kinds of courses will I be taking and will my previous background be enough to get me admitted into a quality program. I am pretty sure I have what it takes to be a good engineer, but architectural engineering seems so important and varied, there must be a lot to learn.

By truman12 — On Jun 27, 2011

@Chivebasil - The amount of money you make as an architectural engineer depends a lot on where you work and what your place on the totem pole is. Whether you make more than architects is dependent on the same factors.

Entry level architectural engineers can expect to make $40-50,000 as a baseline salary. As they move up the ladder this can increase significantly. If you are the lead architectural engineer at a large firm or part of a consultancy business that does a vigorous business you can expect to earn well into 6 figures. At this rate you may be making more money than architects. Although, the most famous architects make quite a bit more money than any engineer does.

By chivebasil — On Jun 26, 2011

Can anyone tell me what an architectural engineering salary is? I have been interested in this line of work for many years but want to make sure that I can earn a living at it. Also, do architectural engineers make more money that architects?

By gravois — On Jun 26, 2011

Architectural engineering is something that many people are aware of but that many neglect or underestimate. When people think of an architect they often think of some kind of eccentric and solitary artistic genius who labors over a draftsman's to create a beautiful and unique form out of steel and glass. And while this aesthetic dimension is important, vitally important, there are a number of engineering challenges which are just as important.

This is where the architectural engineer comes in. If an architect designs a building that could never stand under its own weight, what is the point. It is the job of the engineer to determine how a building could actually stand up under the forces of physics. This job is less glamorous but just as important. Without good engineers we would have a lot more accidents and toppled buildings.

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