Eli5 what is a Civil Engineer?


Basically the title. I’m in my third year of civil engineering and I’m not proud to say this but I still couldn’t explain properly to someone younger if I was asked. Also what’s the difference between civil engineering and architecture? Because in all the infos I’ve found the boundary is still quite blurry.

Thank you

In: 3

9 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

For an ELI5 type. Architects work on designing buildings, they are the ‘artist’ when it comes to making them.

Civil Engineers work on/with the land. They design things so roads, bridges, and buildings can be built on or around their work.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Civil is usually the stuff in and seemingly touching the ground. Soil bearing pressure, road layout etc.
Architecture is above ground and habitable. Civil and Arch work closely together but each has its place in the built environment.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Architect makes the design of the structure. The Civil Engineer is the one that will build it. Basically, Civil Engineer is like a genie for Architect.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Architecture and Civil work closely together and let’s add in Structural Engineering as well. They all work together but each have their specific niche’.

Anonymous 0 Comments


Anonymous 0 Comments

In lieu of my own words, these people have a good tldr:

> The term “civil engineer” was established by John Smeaton in 1750 to contrast engineers working on civil projects with the military engineers,[3][4] who worked on armaments and defenses. Over time, various sub-disciplines of civil engineering have become recognized[5] and much of military engineering has been absorbed by civil engineering.[6] Other engineering practices became recognized as independent engineering disciplines, including chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering.


Anonymous 0 Comments

Civil engineer is the person making the entire city with two pennies where the architect places one single fancy but inefficient building.

The main difference is that the civil engineer makes something that works, that may look decent.

The architect make look good something that may even work.

Anonymous 0 Comments

A lot of people are giving mostly good answer, but with some false things in them. I’m a civil engineer so here the explanation.

Civil Engineer work on design for construction project. This include roads, bridge, dams, earthwork, sewers, drainage, but also building. The job of the civil engineer is to calculate and design these elements to be in accordance with the standard. Calculate the number and size of columns, how large of a foundation you need for the soil, the slope for drainage, etc.

In most countries you have some kind of Order of the Engineer, you need to be a member to exercises tasks that are limited to Engineer (mostly the design and math I talked about). If you go to school and are a member of the Order you are a Civil Engineer. But your job could be different. For example, I rarely do design anymore myself. I’m mostly a project manager and work more on finance, contract, personnel management, scheduling, etc. But I’m still a Civil Engineer, member of the Order and I legally can still do design work. But to do my current job I don’t need to be a Civil Engineer. It’s just that for important management task in construction, employer tend to prefer people that know a lot about construction so Civil Engineer are often in those position.

I will say that it’s possible that in some countries they separate the Civil Engineer for Civil Work and Structural Engineer for Structure. But legally that’s not the case in most countries that I know. Obviously people can specialized into one or the other during their career and some school can be more well known for one or the other. But legally we are all Civil Engineer with the same minimal schooling and member of the same Order.

Now Architect are completely different. A lot of people think that they are the artist that design the beauty of building, but that’s not really true. They are in charge of designing the interior, shape and building envelope. They will usually talk to the client to find out what they need for their building, then figure out the size needed for that, then what kind of room they need, how big each room, the overall shape of the building, etc. They also need to follow the standard of the country for the building. Things like how large corridor need to be, how many bathroom, etc. The Building Envelope is what cover the exterior of the building. So here they will design what goes in the external wall (insulation, vapor barrier, siding, etc)

So yes since they decide of the appearance of the building, a lot of people view them as artist and it’s true that some of them can express artistic sense in their building, but that’s the minority. Most of them work on pretty practical or standard design.

Once the Architect designed the overall shape and size of the building, he will give his plans to several different type of engineer. Civil Engineer for the structure, Electrical Engineer, Fire Protection Engineer and Mechanical Engineer for ventilation/heating are the most frequent ones for building.

For project like Bridge or road, the Civil Engineer is usually the one in charge of the overall project instead of an Architect since the structure is like the main thing here.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There’s a saying I heard an old engineer say once which I’m going to paraphrase here:

* Mechanical engineers build weapons.
* Civil engineers build targets.

(There are many other types as well; I’m a software engineer, for example.)

So why would a civil engineer be said to be building targets?

Civil, in this context, refers to anything used by the public, specifically in the same sense as ‘civic’ (not the Honda variety). Things like roadways or stormwater systems, bridges (though less about building the bridge and more about where to put the bridge), building (again, more about the placement of the building and how it connect to utilities and how it affects traffic).

If you’ve ever played SimCity or Cities: Skylines and had to solve complex problems about where to put transit, zones, etc, you have a bit of an idea about what a city planner does. But if you’ve installed the TMPE plugin and other traffic mods and got into the nitty-gritty about traffic flow and intersection design, then congrats, you know what a traffic engineer is. But (pretending that Cities: Skylines is real life), once the traffic engineer and city planner have figured out how they want the road configured, a civil engineer would be given the specifications.

The civil engineer draws up the blueprint for an intersection and designs where all the fixtures (lights, signs, markings, planters, speed humps, medians, maholes, stormwater drains, etc) are going to go. DWP wants access to a utility closet that’s underground so you have to include the placement of manholes in the street. There’s a water main 4 feet down (despite code calling for it to be 10 feet down) which coincidentally crosses the sidewalk right at the north east corner of the street so the turn signal support post will need a different kind of footing so the weight doesn’t damage the pipe. A line-of-sight requirement requires that the timer box be set back an additional 35 feet from where it was planned which is going to cause a budgetary concern. And we’re not even going to talk about the 15 foot wide granite boulder which was discovered while excavation was in progress, but now you gotta figure out how to deal with. (Blasting is not permitted and there are overhead power lines, so no crane.) And now a truck decided to ignore the cones and barricades and drove onto the freshly laid rebar which will delay the concrete pour by a week while it’s fixed. “I got 4-wheel-drive” don’t mean shit when the rebar catches your wheel and drive shaft and gets all wrapped up around them.

Just for completeness:

The civil engineer designs and plans outdoor spaces. I used a traffic intersection as an example above but private companies may bring in an engineer to design a shopping center or an amusement park or a waterfront or an airport. This generally includes the placement of buildings but not the design of the building (though civil engineers and architectural engineers frequently work together in situations where the design of the building affect the design of the outdoor space).

As a rule:

* Mechanical engineer: ± 0.0001 ”
* Architectural engineer: ± 1″
* Civil engineer: ± 1′