Areas of work, specialisms and alternatives

Structural engineering

30 Jan 2024, 15:45

Structural engineering is a specialism of civil engineering. It is the science and art of designing civil engineering facilities so that they can safely resist the forces to which they may be subjected. Structural engineers are key creative members of every design team; around the world they are committed to sustainably developing a safer built environment.

Man looking at plans on paper

Structural engineers combine expertise with innovation to meet any building challenge and are concerned with the design and construction of buildings, bridges and special structures. They aim to design these structures with safety, economy and elegance. They form part of the team of professionals involved with construction projects and therefore work closely with architects, quantity surveyors and building services engineers.

Work activities

  • Undertaking technical and feasibility studies including site investigations.
  • Using a range of computer packages for developing detailed designs.
  • Undertaking complex and repetitive calculations.
  • Liaising with clients and a variety of professionals including architects and subcontractors.
  • Compiling job specs and supervising tendering procedures.
  • Resolving design and development problems.
  • Managing budgets and project resources.
  • Scheduling material and equipment purchases and delivery.
  • Ensuring the project runs smoothly and the structure is completed within budget and on time.
  • Estimating the cost and quantities of materials, equipment and labour.
  • Computing load and grade requirements, water flow rates and material stress factors to determine design specifications.
  • Inspecting project sites to monitor progress and ensure the project is being constructed according to design specifications.
  • Conducting studies of traffic patterns or environmental conditions to identify potential problems and assess how they will affect the project.

Structural engineers often work alongside civil engineers and architects as part of a construction team; “if a structure was a human body, then the architect would be concerned with the body shape and appearance, and the structural engineer would be concerned with the skeleton and sinews”, is how the Institution of Structural Engineers described the role of structural engineers.

Critical skills that a person needs in structural engineering include an in-depth understanding of physics and mathematics. A structural engineer must also know the properties of various materials, such as their density, hardness, tensile strength, bulk modulus and bending strength. They need to be able to calculate how different materials will perform under stresses such as compression, tension, bending and twisting, as well as under various environmental conditions of temperature, pressure, corrosive gases and liquids, and even radiation. They also need to be able to predict how these materials will perform over an extended period.


Engineers Ireland require graduates to have an accredited Level 9 (Masters) qualification, or equivalent, to meet the educational standards required of a Chartered Engineer.

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