An architectural engineer applies the skills of many engineering disciplines to the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and renovation of buildings while paying attention to their impacts on the surrounding environment. In countries such as Canada, the UK and Australia, architectural engineering is more commonly known as Building engineering, building systems engineering, or building services engineering. In some languages, such as Korean, "architect" is literally translated as "architectural engineer".
With the establishment of a separate NCEES Professional Engineering registration examination in the 1990s, architectural engineering is now recognized as a distinct engineering discipline in the United States. But many practicing 'architectural engineers' hold degrees or registration in civil, mechanical, electrical, or another engineering field and become architectural engineers via experience. Conversely, many degree-holding architectural engineers have professional registration in civil or mechanical engineering, for example. The number of architectural engineering degree programs is increasing, but demand far exceeds the availability in the U.S., especially on the East and West Coasts, and in the South. Note that "architectural engineering technology" is different from architectural engineering.
Difference from architecture
A common confusion is the distinction between architecture and architectural engineering. In essence, architectural engineering is the engineering discipline for the analysis, design, and construction of building systems. Architects are directly responsible for the form and appearance of a building, including the way in which people use and experience the spaces of the building. Architects traditionally act as the leader of the design team, and are thus known as the 'prime professional'. They coordinate the efforts of the various engineering and other design consultants for building projects.
Before about 1975, architectural engineering graduates in the U.S. typically went to work as 'technical architects'. Since that time architectural engineering defined itself as consulting engineers for buildings. Architectural engineers thus concentrate on ensuring that "the buildings work", e.g., that they stand up, that the HVAC systems operate well, that light and electrical power are delivered safely and as needed, and that fire safety is addressed.
By the 1950's, there were approximately 60 architectural engineering degree programs in the U.S. However, as architecture split from engineering -- most architecture programs were in engineering schools -- many architectural engineering programs lost institutional support. But from a low of eight programs in the early 1980's, and with the redefinition of the discipline as 'engineers for building systems', architectural engineering education is experiencing significant growth. Demand for admission to the programs, and quality of applicants, is very high. The academic honor society for architectural engineering is Phi Alpha Epsilon.
The Architectural Engineer
Architectural engineers' roles can overlap with that of the architect and other project engineers. Like architects, they seek to achieve optimal designs within the overall constraints, except using primarily the tools of engineering rather than architecture. In most parts of the world, architectural engineers are not entitled to practice architecture unless they are also licensed as architects. In some juristictions, registered professional architectural engineers are limited, by virtue of the exams taken, to practicing only one or more of the component areas of building engineering practice such as mechanical (HVAC/plumbing/etc.), electrical, structural, or fire protection.
In recent years there has been increasing emphasis on sustainable and green design, including in engineered building systems. Architectural engineers increasingly seek LEED ((R) USGBC) Accredited Design Professional (LADP) status in addition to their Professional Engineering registration.
- Consulting Engineer/Design Engineer/Designer. An Engineer, usually a Professional Engineer, or if early in his or her career, an Engineer-in-Training that designs and specifies building systems, analyses problems, or optimizes conditions, for example. Typically employed by, or owner of, a consulting engineering firm, but also commonly in an A/E (architectural and engineering services) firm.
- Plant/Facilities Engineer. The owner's management liaison person interacting with architects, contractors, and engineers in the design and construction of remodeling, additions, and new facilities. Manages and develops such programs within the plant as energy conservation, preventative maintenance, and retrofits.
- Sales/Applications Engineer. Provides technical advice and application of their representative products to the building industry's architects, engineers, and constructors.
- Construction Project Manager. Manages the construction of a building project. Responsibilities include the scheduling of labor trades, material, and equipment for the most economical and expeditious construction of buildings.
- Construction Estimator. The estimator is responsible for the takeoff material, type of labor, and equipment, and calculating the cost for the construction project plus preparing the necessary documents for the estimate.
- Structural Engineer. Analyzes, calculates, and selects systems and components for various structures. Graduates are employed within the building industry, but also in other structural areas. Graduate study, and additional registration exams in structural engineering are recommended.
- Electrical Systems Engineer. Designs and specifies electrical power, lighting, and communication systems for buildings. Employed in an electrical consulting design office or in electrical design-construction offices. Other responsibilities may be preparing specifications and cost estimates.
- Electrical Utility Engineer. Coordinates new building construction with building owners, design engineers, and contractors, and educates customers on conservation and cost saving opportunities while optimizing the loads on the utility.
- Building Inspector. Employed by a public agency. Responsible for the public interest to inspect building projects for code compliance.
- Fire Safety/Protection Engineer. Designs various types of fire protection systems within the building. Systems include sprinkler, chemical suppression, smoke control, and detection devices.
- Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) Engineer. Designs the HVAC systems and prepares the specifications.
- Plumbing Engineer. Designs the potable water, process fluids, and wastewater systems for the buildings.
- Professor/Researcher. Teaches and performs research and service. Typically requires completion of a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in engineering degree.