By Andrea Reynolds, P.E., S.E., LEED AP, FIStructE, M.ASCE

I wish I'd known that engineers can be artists! Discovering this has been a transformative revelation in my educational and professional journeys. Initially torn between the worlds of art and engineering, I made what I felt was the more practical choice: engineering.

Little did I realize that within this field, there is a space where creativity and technical expertise converge, allowing people to stretch both sides of their brains and transcend conventional boundaries.

A woman in a red blouse
Andrea Reynolds

In the realm of structural engineering, I discovered a unique form of artistry. Here, I am akin to a sculptor, molding raw materials into captivating and enduring structures.

Rather than merely designing beams and columns, I find myself breathing life into architectural visions that go beyond equations and engineering drawings, blurring the lines between science and art.

The heart of engineering's artistic essence lies in problem-solving. The exploration of innovative solutions to complex problems mirrors the experimentation of artists seeking new techniques and styles.

Embracing challenges as opportunities to innovate, I find myself experimenting with various materials, technologies, and systems to find elegant and appropriate solutions. This sort of problem-solving, akin to the artistic journey, allows me to blend creativity with technical acumen.

The collaborative nature of engineering work is also reminiscent of the synergy found in artistic communities. Working on interdisciplinary teams, I experience the amalgamation of diverse perspectives to create holistic solutions.

This environment fosters creativity, allowing ideas to flow freely and evolve organically as we inspire each other to reach solutions that are richer and more nuanced than any individual effort.

Communicating ideas with clients, pursuing project work, and providing thought leadership to the industry also trigger creative expression.

Contrary to common misconceptions, engineering isn't only crunching numbers and analysis; engineering encompasses creative writing, sketching, and visualization to convey concepts. It is how I have been able to marry structural engineering with my interest in graphic design.

Additionally, as engineers, we shape the cultural and architectural landscape, leaving an enduring impact on society. Our designs influence how people perceive the world, reflecting both technical prowess and artistic sensibility.

Recognizing engineers as artists acknowledges the profound influence of our work on human experience, allowing appreciation of the beauty and functionality woven into our creations.

Andrea Reynolds, P.E., S.E., LEED AP, FIStructE, M.ASCE, is a principal and the director of structural engineering in the Detroit office of SmithGroup.

This article first appeared in the January/February 2024 print issue of Civil Engineering as "Wish I'd Known."