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Ask a Civil Engineer


Question: What role to civil engineers play in the construction of buildings? 


Civil engineers are involved in the design process and in the construction of buildings, which typically includes: 

  • Understanding the site topography and positioning the building on the site 
  • Planning the routing and the site drainage, access roads and utility connections  
  • Understanding the local geology and soil conditions, including the location of the water table 
  • Selecting and designing a foundation system and the rock or soil layer on which the building will be founded 
  • Selecting a structural system that is compatible with the building architecture and designing it to be capable of resisting all the occupancy and environmental loads (snow, earthquake, wind, etc.).  This includes the selection and the design of a floor system and may also include the design of the building envelope, or the separation between the interior and the exterior environments of a building. The structural system must also be compatible with the other engineered systems in the building (e.g. HVAC, building envelope) 
  • Once the design is finalized and approved, the next step is to define the specifications of all the materials used in the building, prepare a quantity take-off, and prepare an estimate of the  construction cost 
  • The plans and other technical documents serve as the basis for conducting the bidding process and the selection of a contractor and possibly, specialty subcontractors. 
  • Civil engineers are also involved in the planning, scheduling and inspection of construction, including testing and interpretation of tests. They may also be involved in the site layout and the selection of construction methods. Construction safety is also one of their concerns 

The architectural design, and the design of engineered systems other than structures and foundation, and possibly building envelope, is the role of other professionals, such as architects, mechanical engineers, fire protection engineers, electrical engineers, lighting specialists, acoustics specialists, etc. 


Civil engineering is an exciting and growing profession. From the light switch you turn on every morning to the road you drive home on in the evening, civil engineering is everywhere. 

In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in engineering-related television programming, whether its on PBS with Curious George and Design Squad or on cable networks with shows such as Modern Marvels

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