What Are the Differences and Similarities Between Architects and Structural Engineers?

04/25/2023 General Construction

It’s easy to understand why people often get confused about architects and structural engineers. Both design buildings, so what’s the difference? In a nutshell, architects focus on aesthetics and stylistic design, while structural engineers are more concerned with the strength, stability, durability and safety of buildings. Their tasks complement each other to create today’s beautiful and efficient buildings.

Architects frequently are compared to artists and structural engineers to scientists, but that’s not an accurate analogy because architects cannot ignore science in favor of appearance when designing buildings.

In this article, we explore the top similarities and differences between architects and structural engineers.


Architects are licensed professionals who bring their knowledge of building design, project management and materials to a construction project. Taking into account the physical structure, function and aesthetics of the buildings they design, architects are part-artists, part-scientist who help create the built environment around us.

Architects design indoor and outdoor spaces using creative elements such as spatial relationships, shapes, colors, materials and lighting to realize the client’s vision for those spaces while also complying with building codes and other regulations.

On a day-to-day basis, architects make sketches, models, plans and technical drawings by hand or using computer-aided design software (CAD). They must be highly organized in order to keep track of the various projects and contracts they’re working on and complete their work on time and on budget.

Architects work with engineers, contractors, construction managers and project owners (clients), so they must be able to effectively communicate and collaborate with parties involved.

Read also: 5 key strategies to manage a successful construction project


  • Meeting with clients to learn about project goals and requirements
  • Using advanced software, including CAD, to produce drawings of proposed buildings
  • Developing plans that include cost estimates and prospective timelines
  • Studying sites to confirm the viability of the space or environment
  • Researching building codes, structural issues and material specifications
  • Hiring contractors to perform building and construction tasks
  • Overseeing the construction process and traveling to the worksite to assess progress

Structural Engineers

Like architects, structural engineers also design buildings, but they focus more on safety, strength, and durability than on style or aesthetics. They use structural analysis programs and test data to recommend construction materials and techniques that can produce strong, safe, and durable buildings. Their plans and drawings typically compliment architects’ primary sets of drawings.

Structural engineers often are tasked with designing structures that can withstand strong seismic forces, floods, and high winds. They deal with experts in mechanical engineering, electrical systems, water supply and sewage systems, acoustic and lighting, fire suppression systems, and other technical matters to ensure quality control.

In addition to residential, commercial and industrial buildings, structural engineers work on bridges, dams, tunnels, theme park rides and other large-scale projects. They also provide advice on how to make improvements to existing buildings and help solve complex construction problems.


  • Meeting with clients and colleagues to assess project needs and to review plans, maps and reports
  • Using CAD programs to create designs for buildings and structures
  • Ensuring that designs, construction methods and building materials are safe for the public
  • Inspecting and appraising construction areas
  • Assessing risks regarding costs, timelines, environmental issues, worker safety and government regulations
  • Obtaining building permits from local agencies and other authorities
  • Overseeing construction projects by monitoring requirements, schedules and budgets

Read also: How to create a reliable budget for a commercial and industrial construction project

Architects vs. Structural Engineers

1. Education and Experience

Careers in architecture and structural engineering require a college education and licensing as well as years of training and experience. To become an architect or a structural engineer, a student must obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Many students also obtain master’s degrees.

Architects typically gain knowledge and experience in construction, engineering, landscaping, urban planning, client representation and construction management. Structural engineers gain expertise on engineering fields, quality control, safety inspection, building site security and public safety.

2. Licenses

In addition to a college education, architects must be licensed by a state board. License requirements vary from state to state but usually include working several years under a licensed professional and passing a test. Likewise, the licensing requirements for structural engineers vary per state, with some states not requiring an SE license before these professionals can render their service.

3. Salary

Generally speaking, architects earn about the same, with architects earning slightly higher salaries than structural engineers. According to Indeed, architects in the U.S. earn an average annual salary of $91,922, while structural engineers earn an average salary of $90,509 a year.

4. Nature and Scope of Work

Architects design and plan the layout of buildings, focused mostly on aesthetics. Structural engineers examine those designs to ensure their integrity and safety. Typically, the architect drafts a blueprint and the structural engineer analyzes it and identifies the best materials and construction methods to realize the architect’s design. Structural engineers also must ensure that all key components, such as electrical, water and sewage systems and mechanical components, comply with the structural specifications of the building.

5. Work Environment

Most architects work in their offices and occasionally visit job sites. For structural engineers, the typical work environment depends on the organization they work for; some jobs are office-based, while others require the engineers to spend more time at job sites.

In the end, both architects and structural engineers make similar and unique contributions to construction projects, creating beautiful spaces and structures that are also sound and safe for the general public.

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