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What is Structural Engineering?

written by: Harlan Bengtson • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 6/29/2011

What is a Structural Engineer? He or she is a person who designs, analyzes and builds structures. Structural engineering, a branch of civil engineering, involves design of structures (e.g. buildings, bridges, etc.) so that they will withstand all anticipated loads and yet be economical to build.

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    What is a Structural Engineer? - Here is a Definition.

    Structural engineering is typically considered to be a branch of civil engineering, although there are some programs of study and some degrees specifically in structural engineering. The primary work done by a structural engineer consists of analyzing and designing structures. This design must be done to ensure that the structures will withstand projected loads, yet be economical to build. The projected loads may include some due to natural forces of nature and some due to applied loads put on the structure as it is being used. The natural forces of nature may include wind, snow, or possibly an earthquake, for example. The other applied loads may include, for example, equipment, furniture, people, and the weight of the structure itself. The forces or loads that the structural engineer must design for may include forces that do not change with time, called static loads, and forces that do change with time, called dynamic loads.

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    Types of Structures


    Structural engineers design a wide range of types of structures. Traditionally one thinks of examples such as large buildings, arenas, dams, or bridges in connection with the word structure, and inbrooklyn bridge  fact bridge engineering is one major category of structural engineering, but a large variety of machines, vehicles, and equipment, large and small, require structural integrity and the ability to carry specified structural loads, thus requiring design by a structural engineer. Structural engineers are also involved in the design of infrastructure such as roads, pipelines, waterways, and railroads. The structural engineer must ensure that a structure's design satisfies any national, state, and local design codes, that it is designed for safety in its use, that it will not fail under any projected loading, and that it is designed for economical construction.

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    construction of a structure 

    In order to be responsible for structural engineering work, it is necessary to be licensed as an engineer in most countries. Various agencies around the world have the responsibility for engineering licensing or certifying for their jurisdiction. In the United States, each state has jurisdiction for granting an engineering license to practice the profession in their particular state. In some jurisdictions, there is separate licensing for structural engineers. In other jurisdictions they may be lumped with civil engineers or simply professional engineers. In order to be eligible for licensing as a structural engineer, civil engineer or engineer, one typically must have completed an appropriate four or five year degree program, have at least three years professional experience under the supervision of an appropriately licensed engineer, and take and pass an examination.

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    Work with other Professionals

    A structural engineer typically doesn't work in isolation. Working together with professionals in other disciplines is usually part of the job. Other disciplines which often interact with structural engineers are architects, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, geotechnical engineers, and environmental engineers. The structural engineer often works closely with an architect. The structural engineer must understand the architect's plan and design, so that the structural support elements can be be placed so that they complement the design rather than interfere with it.