Civil Engineering Disciplines

Civil Engineering Disciplines – Sub-Specialities

Civil engineers conceptualize, design, construct, and maintain the complex infrastructure that any society relies on to support its needs, ranging from the indispensable, such as shelter and water, to comforts such as entertainment facilities.

In ancient times construction projects included pyramids, aqueducts, and amphitheaters. Today, they include churches, mosques, or temples of great size; airports and subway systems; electrical generation plants with hydo, wind, solar, fossil fuel, or nuclear power sources; and roller coasters, ski lifts, theaters, and sports arenas.

The Ferris Wheel, for example, was invented for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair by civil engineer George Ferris. In the future, civil engineers may be called upon to build structures in space or on the moon. Civil engineers also work to protect the environment we live in so that it remains clean and safe.

Civil engineers are engaged in projects related to preventing erosion, air pollution, and contamination of underground or surface water, as well as minimizing solid waste.

The construction of complex water systems in the USA and other developed countries has ensured that most water is free from bacteria and water-borne diseases, a significant factor in the health and longevity of our population today, which was one of the great challenges of civil engineering of a century ago.

In fact, a  “developed” country is partly defined by the fact that it has extensively applied modern civil engineering, along with communications and electronic engineering and other science and technology disciplines.

Civil engineering has played an important role in history by fundamentally changing the ways in which people live, work, and travel. Well-known examples of notable civil engineering projects that have had a significant impact on the United States include: the Erie Canal; major bridges, some of which have achieved the status of cultural symbols, such as the Brooklyn Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge; the first skyscraper buildings, for example the Reliance Building by Daniel H. Burnham (Figure 2-1); the transcontinental railroad; aqueducts that bring water to such major cities as New York City or Los Angeles from sources hundreds of miles away; a widespread system of dams and levees controlling the flow of the Mississippi River; Hoover Dam; the Alaska Pipeline. In other parts of the world, civil engineering monuments of significance in history include the Eiffel Tower in Paris (named after civil engineer Auguste Eiffel), the Panama Canal extending across Panama; the Zuiderworks that controls the flow of water in the Zuiderzee in the Netherlands for flood control and land reclamation purposes, and the “Chunnel” rail tunnel between the United Kingdom and France.

Figure 2-1. The Reliance Building, Chicago, Illinois, one of the first true skyscrapers. It had a complete steel-frame (rather than brick bearing walls) and extensively glazed exterior.

photo: RR

Supporting a healthy and productive society requires the development of a complex infrastructure based on the fundamentals of mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, geology, and economics. Therefore, civil engineers, who apply these sciences to their profession, require expertise in a broad range of subjects.

They major as undergraduates in college in a department of civil engineering (often called Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering) with a broad range of required courses, and with a modest emphasis in a sub-discipline such as geotechnical or structural engineering.

The master’s degree is commonly obtained by civil engineers today to better prepare them for their careers, and in graduate school the specialization is much greater: A graduate student in civil engineering may specialize in structural or geotechnical engineering, for example, or in water resources or transportation engineering. The student receiving a doctoral degree (PhD or the equivalent DSc degree) specializes even more.

Several or all of the following civil and environmental sub-disciplines may collaborate to complete the various stages of any given project. The constituent disciplines, or subdisciplines, of civil engineering, include:

  • Construction Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Geotechnical Engineering
  • Structural Engineering
  • Transportation Engineering
  • Water Resources Engineering

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