What’s the Difference Between Structural & Civil Engineers?

With innovation, creativity, and a wide range of knowledge and expertise, civil and structural engineers are the masterminds behind the design and construction of the spaces and places around us. From roadways and bridges to structures and so much more, both types of engineers help solve life’s problems. 

Both roles are highly important and involve elements of creating, designing, and building in the construction industry. Each provides special skills and knowledge when it comes to a particular project, which makes it valuable to understand what differentiates them. 

Structural versus civil engineers

Civil engineers focus on the design aspect of a project, while a structural engineer manages a structure’s integrity and the materials used. Structural engineers ensure that the project and materials support the project’s design.

Civil engineering is the broad subset of the engineering field, with structural engineering being one of its disciplines. All structural engineers are civil engineers, but not the other way around.

The diagram below illustrates the relationship between the two, along with showcasing other specializations of civil engineering.     

Source: Linkedin

A civil engineering degree is typically offered as a first degree, while a structural engineering degree is offered as a 2nd or 3rd degree.


Learn more about civil engineering

One of the oldest engineering fields, civil engineering is broad in scope and includes structural engineering, along with many other disciplines (refer to diagram above). 

Civil engineers design and supervise the construction of public infrastructure. 

Design projects may include the following:

  • Grading (ensuring a level base or a specific slope on the land)
  • Stormwater collection/retention systems
  • Roadways
  • Railways
  • Water and wastewater systems
  • Dams
  • Bridges 
  • Canals
  • Pipelines

As a result, civil engineers handle elements such as traffic and erosion control, hydrology studies, building codes/regulations, hydrology studies, and other tasks such as:

  • Creating designs 
  • Forecasting construction timelines
  • Working in collaboration with structural engineers 
  • Communicating with clients, vendors, subcontractors, and architects
  • Assessing the feasibility and practicality of a project, and finding alternative solutions 

What is a structural engineer?

A sub-division of civil engineering, structural engineers focus on the analysis, design, construction, and maintenance of the structure of projects like the ones mentioned above. Their main responsibility is to ensure the safety, stability, durability, and structural strength of any construction project.

Examples of structural engineering projects and responsibilities include:

  • Assessing how a structure can handle pressure and carry loads generated by human or environmental influence 
  • Reinforcing or counteracting loads in various structures
  • Inspecting materials used in construction projects
  • Analyzing how different forces (i.e. weather, gravity, etc.) affect a project
  • Focusing on structural elements such as columns, beams, and girders and support systems like beam-column connections and shear walls

Structural engineers have a strong knowledge base of design, physics, mathematical calculations, and materials science.

How does this look in real life?

While a civil engineer may be responsible for the construction of the road system, a structural engineer may manage the construction of signs overhead and the bridges within the road. This includes the materials of construction and their ability to withstand design actions.

Structural engineers are responsible for ensuring that a bridge does not collapse, while a civil engineer is charged with making sure the surrounding river does not flood or submerge the same bridge.


Is a civil or structural engineer needed for my project?

The nature of your construction project will dictate what type of engineer you will need. Taken into consideration will be the type of structure, geographic location, current infrastructure, etc.

The success and safety of your construction project hinge on the expertise and knowledge of experienced civil and structural engineers. 

Each role has distinct responsibilities, and it’s crucial to find the right professional for your project. 

The good news? 

Here at Connolly Engineering, we have over three decades of experience in both civil AND structural engineering. From large scale commercial, industrial, and residential projects to building superstructure design and property condition assessments/reserve studies, count on us to get the job done efficiently and exceptionally. 

We are industry-leaders! No need to seek out another engineer when partnering with our team. 

Whether you need to get a building designed to local codes and regulations or to conduct on-site structural evaluations, we are both structural and civil engineering experts in the New York City and Hudson Valley areas. Trusted, respected, and sought-after, Connolly Engineering is here for all your civil and structural engineering needs. 

Contact our team here and let’s discuss your project today!