Guide to Structural Engineering

Civil Engineering, construction, structural engineering, structural engineers,

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Structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering that focuses on designing, analysing, and constructing safe and efficient structures.

What is structural engineering?

Structural engineering is essential in ensuring the safety, functionality, and longevity of structures. These structures include buildings, bridges, dams, towers, and other load-bearing structures. It involves applying engineering and scientific principles to ensure the safety, functionality, and durability of structures.

Structural engineers ensure the safety and resilience of the built environment of construction projects. They are generally responsible for determining the materials, dimensions, and configurations of structural elements such as beams, columns, and foundations. Moreover, Structural engineers ensure that structures can withstand loads without experiencing excessive deformations or collapse.

Significance of structural engineering

Structural engineering is vital in civil engineering and construction infrastructure projects. Structural engineering prioritises the safety of structures and individuals who use them once the project has been completed. Structural engineers analyse and design buildings to withstand various loads and forces, including wind, gravity, earthquakes and other environmental conditions.

These factors are always conducted through calculations to ensure that structures are stable, secure, and durable for occupancy. Also, to mitigate the risk of structural failures, collapses, and potential harm to individuals.

A structural engineer’s expertise extends beyond the initial design phase, as they also oversee the construction process, perform inspections, and provide recommendations for maintenance and rehabilitation. Through their knowledge and skills, structural engineers contribute to creating durable, sustainable, and visually appealing structures that shape our world.

History of structural engineering

Structural engineering is one of the oldest types of engineering and can be traced back thousands of years to ancient civilisations. Techniques were developed to build massive stone structures using arches, domes, and vaults. Significant advancements were made with concrete, iron, and steel shortly after, enabling the construction of durable structures.

Structural engineering continues to advance, focusing on sustainable design, resilience to natural disasters, and technology integration today. Innovations in computer-aided design (CAD), structural analysis software, and numerical modelling have helped create a more accurate and efficient design process.

Process of structural engineering

The process of structural engineering involves several stages. It begins with conceptual design, where engineers determine the structure’s overall form, layout, and approximate dimensions. After, detailed analysis and calculations are performed to assess the structural integrity and load-bearing capacity. Computer-aided design (CAD) and simulation tools are often employed to aid these tasks.

Once the design is finalised, structural engineers produce detailed drawings, specifications, and construction plans that guide contractors and builders in constructing the structure. During construction, they may also supervise and conduct inspections to ensure compliance with the design and applicable building codes. Also, they perform structural testing to verify the performance and safety of the completed structure and the response to identify any necessary modifications or repairs.

Types of structural engineering occupations

Structural engineering encompasses various specialised fields and disciplines. They are usually broken down by what sort of structure is being created. Below are some of the critical types of structural engineering.

Building engineering

Building engineering focuses on designing and analysing structures such as residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. It is closely related to architecture and involves engineering related to the function of building infrastructure. Structural engineering involves considering building codes, occupancy requirements, architectural design, and load-bearing capacity. It ensures they can withstand movements or other forces leading to collapse or failure.

Bridge engineering

Bridge engineering deals with the design, analysis, and construction of bridges. It is closely related to structural engineering, encompassing the principles and practices of designing, analysing, and constructing safe bridge structures. Bridge engineers must consider factors such as span length, types of loads, materials selection, and structural stability to ensure the safe passage of vehicles and pedestrians.

Structural dynamics and earthquake engineering

This field focuses on the response of structures to dynamic forces, including earthquakes, wind, and vibrations. Structural engineers in this specialty design structures to withstand the dynamic loads and mitigate the effects through seismic isolation. In particular, earthquake engineering focuses on factors such as base isolation, which allows the structure base to move freely with the ground.

Geotechnical engineering

Geotechnical engineering combines principles of soil mechanics and rock mechanics to assess the behaviour of soil and rocks and their interaction with structures. Geotechnical engineers analyse soil conditions, stability, and foundations to determine the most suitable design and construction of foundations, retaining works, and other earthworks.

Structural steel design

Structural steel design uses steel as the primary construction material for various structures. It is a specialised discipline within structural engineering that focuses on designing, analysing, and constructing steel structures such as towers, steel-framed buildings, and several more. Steel is widely used in construction due to its high strength-to-weight ratio, durability, versatility, and cost-effectiveness. Hence, structural steel design encompasses various aspects, including design consideration, load analysis, and structural system selection.

Concrete design

Concrete design involves the use of reinforced concrete to construct structures. Structural engineers specialising in concrete design must understand the behaviour of concrete and reinforcing materials. This is so they can create safe and efficient designs for buildings, bridges, and other civil structures.

Civil engineering structures

Civil Engineering Structures include dams, earthworks, bridges, offshore structures, foundations, railways, pipelines, retaining walls and structures, roads, tunnels, waterways, power stations, and others. Most of these designs must be signed off by a chartered engineer as these types of structures must cope with extreme pressure variations, temperature, loading, and several more. They must be constructed in corrosive environments such as the ocean, underground, or industrial facilities.

Tall building engineering

Tall building engineering is a specialised branch of structural engineering that focuses on designing, analysing, and constructing elevated and high-rise structures (e.g. skyscrapers). Structural engineers in this field play a crucial role, as tall buildings present huge challenges due to their height, foundation systems, lateral stability, complex systems, and materials used. Furthermore, they must withstand various forces, including wind, seismic activity, gravity, and thermal effects.

Mechanical structures

Mechanical Structures can withstand fatigue and variations in how the load impacts the particular structure during motion. These forces generally vary, so it is crucial for structural engineering specialising in mechanical structures to ensure that the structures can be withstood during their entire lifetime. It includes carriages, coachworks, cranes, lifts, escalators, marine vessels, and pressure vessels.

Depending on the specific engineering and construction project requirements, structural engineers generally specialise further in these fields or combine their knowledge from multiple areas together to work on a project.

Click here to view the responsibilities of a structural engineer.

Structural elements

Various structural elements are combined to form a complete civil engineering or construction project structure. These structural elements are designed to carry, provide stability and transfer loads.

Below are a few common types of structural elements used in structural engineering.

Beams

Beams are horizontal or inclined structural components that carry loads primarily by bending. They are generally designed to resist vertical loads, such as the structure’s weight, and transfer the weight from one-load bearing column or wall to another.

Slabs

Slabs are structural load-bearing elements that form a structure’s floors, roofs, or ceilings. They are designed to withstand the loads on a floor level and distribute them to the supporting beams or walls. Slabs can be either reinforced concrete, hollow-core or made of other materials such as timber or steel.

Walls

Walls are vertical structural elements that provide stability, enclose a space, and resist lateral forces such as wind or seismic loads. Generally, they are made of brick masonry but can be composed of timber, earth materials, or concrete. Walls can be load-bearing, indicating that they carry vertical loads and provide lateral stability, or non-load bearing, where the primary function is to separate spaces.

Footings

Footings are long-withstanding structural elements that support and distribute loads from columns and walls to the ground. They are usually wider than the supported element to spread the load over a larger area and prevent excessive settlement. Footings come in various shapes and types, where some can be shallow, such as spread footings or deep pile foundations. The type of footing also depends upon the magnitude of the load and engineering or construction site conditions.

Trusses

Trusses are groups of girders, beams, and other structural members connected to form a rigid framework. They are generally used to support bridges, roofs, and other structures and are designed to carry loads primarily by axial forces and efficient triangulation. Trusses can be made with various types of timber, steel or a combination of both.

Columns

Columns are vertical structural components that provide support and resist compressive forces. They transfer loads from slabs or beams to a structure’s foundation. Columns can be constructed using concrete, steel or wood, and they are used to support beams and the columns of the floor above. The location of columns must be consistent throughout all floors, as columns at the bottom of the structure must carry the accumulated weight of all the floors above.

Braces

Braces are inclines or diagonal structural components that resist lateral forces, such as seismic loads and winds. They provide stability and prevent excessive horizontal movement or deformation of a structure. It can also be in the form of reinforced concrete elements or steel and is often combined with other structural elements.

Foundations

Foundations are the lowest part of a structure that transfers loads from the structure to the underlying rock or soil. They can be shallow foundations, such as spread footings, raft foundations, or deep foundations (piles or caissons). However, foundations generally depend on the soil conditions and design requirements of civil engineering and construction projects.

Structural engineers observe, analyse and design these structural elements to ensure they can safely carry loads and stabilise the overall structure. These elements’ specific combinations and arrangements vary depending on the type of structure, engineering and construction project requirements and building codes.

Work as a structural engineer in Australia and New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand are experiencing significant civil engineering and construction infrastructure growth. The industry is driven by population growth, urbanisation, and the need to improve existing infrastructure. Both countries are investing in large-scale civil engineering and construction projects to transform cities, improve connectivity, and enhance the quality of life for communities.

Australia and New Zealand require a skilled workforce of engineers in various sectors to support the growing engineering infrastructure. Employers desperately seek structural engineers with different levels of experience to ensure that structures can withstand loads without experiencing excessive deformations or collapse.

With the focus on sustainability across all projects, Structural engineers are essential in incorporating eco-friendly designs. In particular, New Zealand is located in seismically active regions, so structural engineers are crucial in designing earthquake-resistant structures.

As the demand for structural engineers is significantly high, this position is urgently required throughout both countries. This indicates that you can enter the countries to support the current skill shortage if you meet all the qualifications and visa requirements.

Being on the migration skills list allows structural engineers to have enhanced opportunities for immigration and employment in Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand Immigration | Green List Roles

Australian Government – Immigration and Citizenship | Skilled Occupation List

Contact us today if you have any Civil Engineering and Surveying experience. We have many years of experience placing Engineers and Construction Professionals with our clients on various projects across Australia and New Zealand. You can apply at our website here or email your CV to [email protected].


If you are considering working and relocating to Australia or New Zealand, view our ‘Live and Work’ guides below. These two guides provide advice and tips to make your move easier.

Live and Work in Australia

Live and Work in New Zealand

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