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What They Do

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Architectural engineers (sometimes called building engineers) are responsible for many of the details of architectural work that keep buildings safe. Many architectural engineers also work to make buildings more environmentally friendly by doing things like designing more efficient, eco-friendly heating and cooling systems.

Architectural engineers make sure buildings conform to government safety codes. They also check that buildings can stand up against things like fire, floods or other weather situations.

"Architectural engineers (A/Es) work to apply engineering principles to the design and construction of buildings," explains Catherine Clark. She is the e-media manager of a building design magazine. "They are often involved with a number of building functions, such as fire protection, heating and ventilation, or lighting issues."

The work of architectural engineers is different from that of architects, who focus on different aspects of buildings. Architects work more with the appearance of a building, while architectural engineers work on many of the things we take for granted.

"A/Es are a bigger part of our daily lives than most people realize," says Clark. "Through their work, we breathe easier, live longer, are more comfortable and save more money. They make the places we live, work and play better."

Architectural engineers work in offices some of the time. They can also work in the field on building sites. While A/Es usually have regular office hours, they can be asked work overtime, especially when deadlines for buildings are looming.

Clark points out that architectural engineers often have to work with architects, contractors, building owners and other engineers to get their projects finished, so good communication skills are important.

This field also has flexibility. Some A/Es are independent contractors, some work for architectural engineering firms and others are government employees.

There are not a lot of physical restrictions for a career as an architectural engineer.

"There are no physical requirements, beyond determination and knowledge," says Elizabeth Gehring. She's the president of an architectural engineering firm.

Architectural engineer Wayne Lischka agrees with Gehring, but adds that special needs may interfere with certain jobs within the field. "Most of your time is in the office, so special needs should not be a problem," he says. "Someone in a wheelchair would not be a candidate for a field inspector's job, but they certainly could go out and see how the building is going and be able to check some things on some levels. As a design engineer, it should not affect them greatly."

Lischka says that this is an evolving field, and within it are many different career options. "Your responsibilities depend on which area you choose," he says. "If you choose structural engineering, you work with the architect to design the structure of the building. If you choose mechanical, you work with the architect to design the mechanical and electrical systems for the building."

At a Glance

Design, plan and supervise the construction of safe and secure buildings and systems

  • Work on the elements of a building many people take for granted
  • You'll need at least a bachelor's degree
  • Good communication skills are important


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