Structural Engineering 101

What do the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House and the Burj Khalifa have in common?

As a masterpiece in building construction history, a structure created from seemingly impossible shapes and the tallest freestanding building in the world, each are structural engineering achievements in their own right. 

These are just a few of the many examples of structural engineering wonders that surround us. While these structures are famous, this engineering discipline is applied to those we use in daily life such as bridges and tall buildings.


What is structural engineering?

It is through engineering that we are able to imagine, design and construct spaces and places that help solve life’s problems. “Engineering” is derived from two Latin words – ingenium, meaning “cleverness” and ingeniare, “to devise”. 
According to Live Science, “Structural engineering — a specialty within the field of civil engineering — focuses on the framework of structures, and on designing those structures to withstand the stresses and pressures of their environment and remain safe, stable and secure throughout their use. In other words, structural engineers make sure that buildings don’t fall down and bridges don’t collapse.” 
Structural engineering uses applied physical laws and empirical knowledge to build complex structural systems able to handle things such as gravity loads, storms, earthquakes and more. It is the branch of engineering most closely affiliated with architecture. While structural engineers creatively manipulate materials and forms driven by mathematical and scientific principles, architects create designs with both aesthetic and functional goals in mind.
Ancient pyramids dating back to 2700 B.C. were among the earliest examples of structural engineering in history. In fact, pyramids were the most common major structures built in ancient civilizations because their form was relatively stable and could be infinitely scaled. 
History notes Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton as just a few of the many contributions to the field, but in modern time, it is famous structural engineer, Fazlur Rahman Khan, a Bangladeshi-American architect and structural engineer, who is often referred to as the “20th century’s greatest structural engineer,” “the Einstein of structural engineering,” and the “father of tubular designs,” in high-rise building construction. A few of his innovative designs include the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and the John Hancock Center skyscrapers. 

What are the fundamental principles of structural engineering?

A structural engineer ensures that the structures surrounding us are safe today and in the future. 
The three main principles of structural engineering are:
  1. Structural Safety: Designing a structure which will not collapse.
  2. Serviceability: Designing a structure which can safely be used for an extended period of time
  3. Value Engineering: A systematic and organized approach to meet the expectations of the project in the most affordable way possible, without sacrificing functionality.

What does a structural engineer do?

At the highest level, structural engineers ensure that the structures in our daily lives keep us safe despite Mother Nature and other factors that could impact the vitality of a structure. Their education focuses heavily on sound design and ensuring all loads and forces are taken into consideration on the construction plans.  
Structural engineers may work on the following types of construction projects:
  • New construction 
  • Bridge construction
  • City infrastructure
  • Community development impact analysis
  • Project site inspections
  • Parking garages
  • Retaining walls 
  • Building design, remodel or renovation 
A structural engineer is integrated on a project with the architect (usually the lead designer on buildings) and building services engineer (a discipline focused on achieving a safe and comfortable indoor environment, taking into account the environmental impact of a building). Structural engineers often manage the construction of projects by contractors on site. 
Structural engineers are often called on to provide existing building evaluations, as well as property condition assessments and reserve studies, which are comprehensive inspections on the strength and integrity of structures. These analyses are integral for key decision makers to make informed and proactive decisions about the future of a structure.  

Connolly Engineering: Structural Engineering Experts in the NYC and Hudson Valley areas

Able to provide a range of services, structural engineers play a pivotal role in the construction process. The safety of our homes, buildings, bridges and many other structures depend on the expertise of professional structural engineers. 
The vitality, strength and safety of your construction call for a company you can trust to get the job done exceptionally well. For your next project, partner with Connolly Engineering, a respected and renowned boutique structural engineering firm sure to bring innovation, expertise, collaboration and support.
From renovations of all scopes and sizes to new commercial, industrial and residential buildings, we are here for all your structural engineering needs. 
We look forward to hearing from you soon so that we can discuss your next project!