Architect or Structural Engineer: Who do I need?
Many people think about Architects when it comes to consultants in the construction and remodeling business. However, there are many consultants in the Construction industry depending on the type of building. These “other” consultants are Engineers of different kinds. Sometimes you need (and are Required by Law) to have a certain type of Engineer help you, and sometimes a certain type of Architect, and sometimes Both Architects and Engineers. When it comes to residential construction, mainly houses, a lot of people confuse the services of an Architect in Austin or San Antonio with the services of a Structural Engineer in San Antonio or Austin.
An Architect and a Structural Engineer are two different consultants that provide two very different types of services. We are not Architects, so we won’t attempt to explain everything that an Architect does. But let us put it in simple terms what Architects and Structural Engineers do when it comes to a house:
An Architect provides the overall look of the house, both interior and exterior. The Architect’s plans show the elevations of the house (i.e. what the house looks like if you are standing outside and looking at it, and also looking at it from the top); on these elevations plans the Architect shows, among other thing, the windows, the roof slopes, doors, exterior wall finishes (Brick, stone, stucco, siding, etc.).
The Architect’s plans also show the house in Plan View (i.e. the house looking at it from the top without the roof, what a lot of people call it “blue prints). The plan view from the architect’s plans shows the rooms lay out, finishes in the floor (carpet, tile, etc.). There are also plans that show the reflected ceiling, meaning what the height of the ceiling is at each room, if it is a vaulted or cupola or flat ceiling. Plans will also show where to put the lighting.
Another important part of the Architectural plans are the details and sections. Imagine slicing a house like a cake in different sizes slices. Every slice you take, imagine standing in front of it. This is very helpful so that the contractor can clearly see what the architectural intent is. In these details, the architect shows the thickness of the veneers (gypboard, stone, brick), the type of finishes, the color, etc.
As you can see, everything the Architect does revolves around Finishes, Looks, functionality, Insulation, Energy efficiency, Beauty, Accessibility, etc. and all the codes related to that.
The structural engineer designs the structure of this house. He takes the plans from the architect, and makes the house “stand”. The plans will look very different than the architectural plans because the structural plans shows and describes the actual structure. Part of the structure are the foundation, the walls, the second floor framing, the roof framing. For example, on the foundation plan, the Structural Engineer would show the concrete beams and slab, the amount of reinforcement in the beams and the slab, the clearances, the type and strength of concrete used, etc.
For the Framing, the structural plans show the size of the studs, their spacing, the nails from the gypboard or plywood to the studs, the size of the joists and rafters supporting the floor and roof, the nails, the size of any beams and headers, etc. In other words, the structural engineer, as the name implies designs the structure. By the way, that also means that if you have cracks in your house and are concerned over them, the most qualified person to determine if they are structural cracks (from foundation moving or framing flexing) is the Structural Engineer.
We hope we were able to clarify any questions that you may have had concerning the services of an Architect VS. the Services of a Structural Engineer. They are both very much needed consultants providing two very different types of services. If you are in need of an architect, we can also refer you to one.