The Golden Gate Bridge

About Structural Engineers

Structural Engineers work in a collaborative
mode with members of their team as well as
architects, building owners, contractors, and
other professionals to produce functionally
complete and esthetically pleasing buildings.
Structural Engineers design and evaluate the behavior of buildings for all kinds of loadings, including live loadings such as people and furniture, as well as lateral loadings due to wind and earthquakes. The building types include homes, offices, schools, and places of worship and recreation, as well as airports, power plants, tunnels, dams, bridges, and other critical parts of the infrastructure.

Structural Engineers work with owners, contractors, architects and other design professionals in a collaborative environment to produce functionally complete and esthetically pleasing buildings.

In order to achieve these goals the Structural Engineer must know:

  • The purpose and objectives of the structure or building. What is the expected purpose or usage of the structure? Will the building, for example, be used for living, working, playing or praying? How many people will it serve?
  • The environment where the structure will be built. Will it be built on bedrock, landfill, or sand, for example?
  • The likelihood of a natural disaster. How, if ever, will the structure be affected by earthquakes, wind, rain, snow, winds, or floods?

Creating and s ketching out options for
strengthening structural connections of an
existing building.
Structural Engineers integrate environmental forces with their knowledge and creativity to design a safe built environment. For this reason, Structural Engineers are more than j ust scientists.

Though every Structural Engineer has a unique portfolio of qualities, these three stand out:

  • Structural Engineers are creative. Like all engineers, they create and design the spaces in which we live and work and our infrastructure of bridges, tunnels, aqueducts, and the like. Structural Engineers use creativity to ensure these structures are safe, functional, beautiful, and cost-effective.
  • Structural Engineers make a contribution. They use their talents and creativity to produce items that are useful to society.The efforts of Structural Engineers permit people to travel across great canyons or rivers, make good use of crowded urban land, enjoy beautiful views from tall buildings, and remain safe in blizzards and earthquakes.
  • Structural Engineers have a love of learning. They are constantly learning and advancing knowledge about the earth and how to build on it, as well as developing materials to use and systems to follow to secure our built environment. Structural Engineers integrate into their designs current research in materials science, such as developing technologies that reduce vibrations or absorb impact from earthquakes and blasts, and the latest aesthetic theories from architecture and other disciplines.

Theory and practical experience contribute to
successful on-site inspections--a major role
for Structural Engineers.
All Structural Engineers have a common educational background, which includes the following minimum requirements:

  • A four-year degree in civil or architectural engineering from an accredited college or university, with coursework that emphasizes Structural Engineering.
  • Two to five years of experience (this varies by state) working under the supervision of a registered professional engineer with a specialty in structural engineering.

Many Structural Engineers obtain the following additional qualifications, which are optional:

  • Construction experience
  • Drafting or computer-aided design (CAD) training or experience
  • A postgraduate degree (Master's, PhD.) specializing in Structural Engineering
  • Research related to Structural Engineering, computer technology, or material science
  • Business education (such as an MBA degree)

There are several Bay Area Universities, including The University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University, that offer degrees in Structural Engineering. There are only 70 colleges in the country that offer such a degree. Courses include physics, mechanics, blueprint reading, architecture, mathematics, and materials science. A Structural Engineer must be familiar with all aspects and methods of construction.

As projects go through many changes in design,
Structural Engineers remain committed to
providing quality revisions in close
collaboration with architects and building
To become a licensed professional engineer you must pass both an 8-hour national exam and a 4-hour special California exam, including seismic principals. In order to work on certain structures such as hospitals and schools, a Structural Engineer is required to pass a rigorous 16-hour special exam.

Structural Engineers are employed both by the private and public sectors, any individual, corporation or government entity that wishes to build a new structure. In addition, Structural Engineers are hired as consultants to evaluate and recommend improvements on the safety of structures already in existence and to assure adherence to local and federal building codes and standards.

A Structural Engineer analyzes and designs the gravity support and lateral force resistance of buildings, bridges, and other structures.

Definition of terms:

New information about the conditions
impacting a building creates ongoing
challenges for Structural Engineers
who benefit from a collegial working
Analysis and Design
Analysis and Design comprise the basic tasks of Structural Engineering, that is, relating the physical forces of nature to physical configurations of building structures.

Analysis is the process of determining forces in each element (such as a beam) when the configuration of elements is already defined.

Design is the process of configuring elements to resist forces whose values are already known. Analysis and Design are complementary procedures in the overall process of designing new structures and are strong themes in existing buildings.

Personal scrutiny and attention to detail
are a must.
After performing an analysis, Structural Engineers know the element forces. The elements can then be designed (that is, their configuration can be chosen) more precisely. The process iterates between analysis and design until the design is finalized.

Forces of Gravity and Nature
Structures are subject to vertical loads, or gravity, and lateral (horizontal) forces. Gravity loads include "dead," or permanent, load, which is the weight of the structure, including its walls, floor finishes, and mechanical systems, and "live," or temporary load, which is the weight of a structure's contents and occupants, including the weight of snow. Lateral forces include those generated by the wind, earthquakes, or explosions. Structural elements must be designed so that, as a system, the structure can resist all loads and forces to which it's subjected.

Structural Engineering is a popular profession among both
young men and women.
Buildings, Bridges, and Other Structures
A structure is any framing system that supports vertical or lateral loads. Structures include familiar man-made infrastructure such as skyscrapers, houses, bridges, and dams as well as small household items such as bookshelves, chairs, and tables. Most everyday small structures' "design" has evolved from centuries of trial and error and craftsmen developing designs that support the loads and limit movement. At the same time, during the past two centuries, homes, buildings, cathedrals, stadiums, arenas, and bridges have required the evolving expertise of a qualified Structural Engineer that applies physics and mathematics to engineer safe structures.

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