An architect and structural engineer perform complementary tasks in designing buildings. Architects are individuals who concern themselves with the layout and stylistic design of buildings. Structural engineers are the professionals whose expertise ensures that an architect's design is safe and structurally secure.
Extensive education and licensing examinations are generally necessary for both an architect and structural engineer to work professionally. Architects usually study to obtain a bachelor's degree in architecture from an accredited institution. Structural engineers typically earn a bachelor's degree in a field of engineering, frequently in material or civil engineering, though some go on to obtain graduate degrees. Both these professionals usually also must obtain a license from their national or local government in order to do their respective jobs. These licenses usually require that the individual work for a number of years under a professional who is already licensed, as well as passing a special examination.
After these professionals have completed the necessary education and earned licenses to create building designs in their own state, an architect and structural engineer usually work on very different aspects in the design process. Architects speak with the individuals who are commissioning the structure to get a feeling for what the clients want from it. He or she will then take these ideas and translate them into detailed building plans. These include features of every aspect of the building, including floor layouts and the specifics of its structural support system.
A structural engineer then examines the architect's design to ensure its integrity and safety. An architect and structural engineer receive training in similar building fundamentals, but the architect's education specializes in design and aesthetics, while the structural engineer specializes in testing the physics of that design. Structural engineers analyze the distribution of the building's weight among the structural support system. This analysis allows the structural engineer to determine if the building can stand up to the stresses the area's geography and weather and inflict upon it.
Part of the structural engineer's analysis involves the physical properties of the materials which the architect wants to use in different building components. This allows the structural engineer to determine both if the overall design is sound, and if the individual materials will be able to bear their loads. The architect may have to change aspects of the design, or the materials he or she uses in different building components, depending on the contents on the structural engineer's analysis.