female engineer holding presentation

Architect vs Structural Engineer? Who should I Hire?


Architect vs structural engineer? Who should I Hire? While both architects and structural engineers have vastly different jobs infield, it is usually quite confusing for new constructors and first time home builders to understand the difference.

What is an architect’s job?

An Architect’s job is to divide the available space in a plot of land into different spaces and rooms. For e.g., you are building a house and have bought a plot of land with the dimensions of 50 x 90 feet with a total area of 4500 sq. ft. The architect will come in and divide the total area of 4500 sq. ft. into smaller spaces such as a patio, garage, bedroom, bathroom etc.

In this regard, an architect is the same as an architectural designer. Many architects who design large commercial buildings and speciality buildings such as hospitals call themselves architectural designers. However, both titles mean the same thing. They both acquire the same degrees and have the same job, to divide the available space.

Most people will now think that this is quite easy as they can do this by themselves. But it is not. You have to appreciate that architects not only divide the space and design the layout but also have to take out areas for walls and fixtures, columns and beams. For e.g. every wall in a house can have different widths such as 4.5 inches or 9 inches etc.

Architects need to account for each and every wall when designing a house. They also ensure that the doors in your house have ample space to open and close. Same with windows. They optimize the spaces so that maximum sunlight enters a room. They also ensure that your wardrobes are large enough to fit your hangers and small enough so that they don’t start blocking passageways in your house. They also ensure that bathrooms are big enough to fit average humans and toilet fixtures both at the same time. They also ensure that wardrobes, bathrooms and kitchens are not placed in odd locations around the house making their use difficult. This is a small list of what architects do for a small single-family house.

For larger projects such as commercial buildings, hotels, hospitals, airports and stadiums architects are a must. There is so much planning and space division needed that you need an expert in the space to work on it. Even if a small detail goes out of place you can end up having to spend a lot of money to fix it afterwards.

Large projects such as these usually employ teams of architects who work on the project for large periods of time. For e.g. for an average 300 bedded hotel, architectural teams can demand as little as six months and as much as two years time.

What is a structural engineer’s job?

The job of a structural engineer is slightly different from an architect. The architect is responsible for the design and the distribution of the space/plot. The structural engineer is responsible for making a structural drawing explaining how the building/house should be erected. For e.g. how many pillars would be required to erect a three-story building. Simple wherein the building beams should be added for doors, windows and other support structures. How much should the size of the pillars be and how much concrete and steel should be used in the pillars.

Structural engineers are also tasked with designing the foundation of the house. It is the job of the structural engineer to ensure the foundation is dug deep enough and has enough strength to bear the weight of the building. For e.g. the foundation of a house is going to be much smaller and lighter than the foundation for a skyscraper.

Structural engineers design the structural drawing according to the area and the locality. If the area contains loose soil then the foundation must go deeper. Similarly, if the house is being built on a hill then the foundation and the support of the house/building must be tougher on the slope to avoid skidding.

Such is the nuance that is catered to by structural engineers. Structural engineers usually develop a plan to bring the architect’s vision for a space into something that is stable enough to be built in real life. Hence, while architects are artists, structural engineers are the engineers that plan to bring the art from paper to reality.

Structural engineers also ensure that the building/house you are about to construct is in accordance with the code requirements of the area or housing authority.

structural engineer
Designs by a structural engineer

Who do I need to hire an architect or structural engineer?

You will need to hire both of them. Each professional has a distinct job. While many people are confused about picking one or the other the reality is quite the opposite. Many people are mostly confused because architects and structural engineers usually sit together and have a combined corporate office in most areas. There are going to be many firms in your area that offer a triple package of architectural design, structural design and plumbing + electrical design together. Usually, it is a good option to go with the same firm as this not only reduces the cost but also the time. If you hire independent professionals they would all need to visit the premises at different times and you would have to schedule them. All these professionals will also require your input so if you could hire all three professionals in a single package that is a great deal in my opinion. I always go with this option.

Hopefully, I have explained in-depth about the topic. Happy building!

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