Understanding the Different Players in the Industry – Structural Engineers

The construction industry is made up of a series of relationships with architects; designers; engineers; contractors; sub-contractors all working together to meet the needs of the client. This blog is the third in the series looking at the different players in the industry. The aim of this series is to provide a clearer view of the complex construction industry and how the different members of the project team work together. In this blog we review the role of the engineer, focusing on Structural Engineers.


The Structural Engineer – a brief history

  • Prior to the 18th Century most Engineers were military men
  • 1729 “La Science des Ingénieurs” published. Written by French Engineer Belidor it was the first published study of the science of structure
  • 1760’s Canal building and then railways marked growth in the Engineer’s role
  • 1790’s Cast iron begins to be used
  • 1794 Portland cement patented
  • 1818 Institution of Civil Engineers founded
  • 1856 Development of structural steel
  • 1887 British Fire Prevention Committee formed by Edwin Sachs
  • 1894 Completion of Tower bridge by engineer John Wolfe Barry
  • 1901 Engineering Standards Committee formed
  • 1903 British Standard for structural steel published
  • 1906 Completion of the Ritz the first large steel framed building in Britain
  • 1908 Concrete Institute founded by esteemed Architect Edwin Sachs
  • 1912 The Institute was widened to embrace all areas of Structural Engineering
  • 1922 The Concrete Institute renamed to become the Institution of Structural Engineers
  • 1932 Completion of Boots Factory Beeston, early reinforced concrete building
  • 1934 The Institute for Structural Engineers is granted Royal Charter
  • 1955 High rise pre-cast flat building programme
  • 1968 First Structural Awards – Structural Special Awards won by Freeman Fox & Partners for the Severn Bridge and Lowe and Rodin for the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool
  • 1968 The Institution influential responses to Ronan Point collapse
  • 1976 New definition of Structural Engineering published
  • 1985 Completion of Lloyds Building
  • 2000 First Young Structural Engineer of the Year Award to encourage and acknowledge young Structural Engineers, won by Clare Gardiner
  • 2004 completion of Scottish Parliament building
  • 2007 Technician grade of membership introduced by the Institution
  • 2007 Wembley Stadium completed
  • 2008 Heathrow terminal 5 opens
  • 2010 Burj Khalifa Tower, Dubai completed at 828 metres, the highest in the world
  • 2011 The London Olympic Park opens
  • 2012 The Shard completed, at 310 metres is the tallest building the European Union
  • 2013 Construction begins on what is hoped to be the world’s tallest building, the Sky City Tower, China


The role of the Structural Engineer

Structural Engineering  is defined as “a field of engineering dealing with the analysis and design of structures that support or resist loads. Structural Engineering is usually considered a specialty within civil Engineering, but it can also be studied in its own right”.

The role of the Structural Engineer became more defined in the 1800’s as new materials, such as cement, reinforced concrete and steel became commonly used in construction. This combined with the industrial revolution and a greater requirement for larger structures, leading to the need for greater understanding of the design of structures.

Today structural design requires an understanding of how to use concrete, steel, masonry wood and glass to build larger and taller structures. These structures must physically be able to withstand specific pressures and forces. Structural Engineers must ensure their designs satisfy given criteria, that they are safe, serviceable and perform well. They must ensure they do not bend, twist, collapse or vibrate and remain strong and secure throughout their life. They design houses, theatres, sports venues, hospitals, office blocks, bridges etc. and often work closely with Architects.

Structural Engineers design the skeleton or structure of the building, enabling Architects to focus their talents on creating a design that satisfies their client’s demands. Structural Engineers will monitor the progress of an Architectural project. They create initial design models, using in-depth mathematical and scientific knowledge. When work has begun, they inspect the work and advise contractors.

Many engineers work in dedicated practices but they will also be based in the larger Architect’s practices to provide a comprehensive range of services.

Structural Engineers can also examine existing buildings and other structures to test if they are structurally sound and still fit for purpose.

The Institute of Structural Engineers (IStructE) currently has a membership of over 27,000 from 105 different countries.


Communicating with Structural Engineers

When we talk of specification selling there is a tendency to think of just the architect, but the engineer is an equally important specifier, whose role is increasing in importance. This is because of the growing complexity of the legislation which is pushing almost every aspect of a building’s design, causing the architects to rely even more on the engineer.

Like architects, what engineers want is good quality technical advice. It is also important to remember that specifiers in general are short on time and will not respond well to ‘spin’. What specifiers want is technical information and advice, they will be happy to deal with a manufacturer or supplier who can provide good quality, comprehensive information on demand.

In many cases an engineer, or engineers, will be involved at the concept stage of a building’s design. At this early stage they tend to focus on concept and do not specify. However when thinking through that concept they inevitably have products in mind. Once the engineer has defined the performance specifications for the building it is then the architect’s job to develop the design, until the engineer becomes involved with the detailed performance of components.  This is generally in a support role to the architect, but is still very influential.

In general, the engineer will write a performance specification. But where there are challenging problems he may well nominate a product, and if this does happen it is much more likely to stay firm.  Recent research published in the Construction Media Index 2013 indicates that the way engineers source their product information is evolving. As well as product directories, readership of trade journals by engineers remains strong. eNews readership is on the increase and social networks are being accepted as a work tool, often to keep up to date with industry news or to find out about events. Video and webinar are popular and the brochure, in both digital and hardcopy format, is still in demand.



The Structural Engineer is a key member of the construction team and has a significant influence on product specification. As well as providing information tailored to architects also consider the Structural Engineer. Choose your channels of communication carefully and present the appropriate product information in an easy to access format. The Structural Engineer is not to be ignored when developing your marketing mix!

Further reading