Structural Engineering Specializations 101 | San Antonio

Structural (building) engineering includes all structural engineering related to the design of buildings. It is the branch of structural engineering that is close to architecture.

Structural building engineering is primarily driven by the creative manipulation of materials and forms and the underlying mathematical and scientific principles to achieve an end which fulfills its functional requirements and is structurally safe when subjected to all the loads it could reasonably be expected to experience, while being economical and practical to construct. This is subtly different to architectural design, which is driven by the creative manipulation of materials and forms, mass, space, volume, texture and light to achieve an end which is aesthetic, functional and often artistic.

The architect is usually the lead designer on buildings, with a structural engineer employed as a sub-consultant. The degree to which each discipline actually leads the design depends heavily on the type of structure. Many structures are structurally simple and led by architecture, such as multi-storey office buildings and housing, while other structures, such as tensile structures, shells and gridshells are heavily dependent on their form for their strength, and the engineer may have a more significant influence on the form, and hence much of the aesthetic, than the architect. Between these two extremes, structures such as stadia, museums and skyscrapers are complex both architecturally and structurally, and a successful design is a collaboration of equals.

The structural design for a building must ensure that the building is able to stand up safely, able to function without excessive deflections or movements which may cause fatigue of structural elements, cracking or failure of fixtures, fittings or partitions, or discomfort for occupants. It must account for movements and forces due to temperature, creep, cracking and imposed loads. It must also ensure that the design is practically buildable within acceptable manufacturing tolerances of the materials. It must allow the architecture to work, and the building services to fit within the building and function (air conditioning, ventilation, smoke extract, electrics, lighting etc). The structural design of a modern building can be extremely complex, and often requires a large team to complete.

Structural engineering specialties for buildings include:

  • Earthquake engineering
  • Façade engineering
  • Fire engineering
  • Roof engineering
  • Tower engineering
  • Wind engineering

Structural Failure

Structural failure

In other cases structural failures require careful forensic analysis.  The results of these inquiries have been improved practices and a greater understanding of the science of structural engineering.

History of Structural Engineering 101 | San Antonio

History of Structural Engineering 101 | San Antonio



Throughout ancient and medieval history most architectural design and construction was carried out by artisans, such as stone masons and carpenters, rising to the role of master builder. No theory of structures existed, and understanding of how structures stood up was extremely limited, and based almost entirely on empirical evidence of ‘what had worked before’. Knowledge was retained by guilds and seldom supplanted by advances. Structures were repetitive, and increases in scale were incremental.
No record exists of the first calculations of the strength of structural members or the behaviour of structural material, but the profession of structural engineer only really took shape with the industrial revolution and the re-invention of concrete (see History of concrete). The physical sciences underlying structural engineering began to be understood in the Renaissance and have been developing ever since.