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Architectural Engineer  Interviews

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Do you think being involved in the design of buildings that will be around for a long time sounds like an exciting job? Architectural engineers agree. And they add that now is a particularly interesting time for this career. With a renewed focus on the environment, the field is in a new phase that is both fun and meaningful.

"It's a really exciting time to be involved with [architectural engineering] right now, because it's really ramping up and happening," says Wendy Macdonald. She's a sustainability consultant who works in architectural engineering. "You can see the results and the changes; you can see the industry changing around you, which is really neat."

Architectural engineers are responsible for making sure buildings last for many generations. That means the result of their work will be around for a while.

"You can see your designs being built and they will last a long time," says architectural engineer Wayne Lischka. "You're providing a service to society that many people will use. It's very gratifying."

Architect and engineer Joseph Michael Kelly agrees with Lischka. He adds that there is also a nail-biting side to architectural engineering.

"It's always exciting to observe the building being constructed," he says. "I guess the scary part is knowing that if you made one wrong calculation, or detailed a building system or component incorrectly, the whole thing could come tumbling down.

"One takes on a lot of responsibility in being an engineer and is held accountable for their design," he continues. "The engineer tries to eliminate the unexpected by working it out in the mind before it is built in the field. The reality is that on some projects you have to be able to deal with the unexpected on a daily basis."

But dealing with the unexpected is part of the thrill. And not knowing what could happen from day to day is what a lot of architectural engineers love so much about their work.

"I have heard of contractors finding dinosaur bones in foundation excavations," says Elizabeth Gehring. Gehring is the president of an architectural engineering firm. "I found a rib bone once, but it was nothing but leftovers from a groundbreaking BBQ," she laughs.

"Getting hoisted up several stories on a crane ball the first time was scary and exciting," says Lischka. "The construction workers know it's your first time, so they try to make you scared and you need to act as if it's no big deal.

"Checking a connection on a building several stories high without walls is also something to think about -- as is being lowered into a 30-inch diameter hole 30-feet deep to check the bottom bearing. Thirty inches gets very narrow when you look up and all you can smell is earth."

Speaking of getting closer to the earth, one aspect of architectural engineering that is on the rise is the move towards creating buildings that are more environmentally friendly.

"I think architectural engineering contributes to personal welfare as well as the cultural and social environment," says Kelly. "I try to make my designs sustainable and have the least negative influence on the environment."

"If you do a good building, chances are it's going to be sustainable," adds Macdonald. "A lot of it isn't rocket science. Build it so it's not leaky, so you don't have to rip it out next year. Build it so it doesn't use a lot of energy, get good insulation, save water...."

Macdonald, who has a background as a mechanical engineer, stresses that if architectural engineers help design what is simply a good solid building, they're already halfway to being green.

There are also other aspects of being an architectural engineer that have social importance, says Lischka. Not only does he design buildings that will be around for many generations, he's also had the chance to use his knowledge in the field to educate others.

"I've been involved in forensics on structural failures and have done documentaries for National Geographic, The History Channel, The Discovery Channel and the Learning Channel," he says. "Plus, I've worked with the BBC on a documentary that was used in Europe and at European universities."

Mainly, architectural engineers and those involved in the field seem to be having a great time doing their job. What more could you ask for?

"I love the varied projects and the feeling of being a part of a near-ephemeral accomplishment or landmark," says Gehring. "That's the ego part of architecture."

"It's a blast," laughs Macdonald. "I'm having a heck of a good time. That keeps me excited about it. It's a lot of fun."