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
"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
"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."