The number of professionals designated as architectural engineers has diminished over the past thirty years. Nevertheless, architectural engineering is a special type of building professional incorporating skills from the disciplines of architecture and engineering.
Architects are generalists, who know a little about a wide range of building topics, such as design, structure, materials, social interaction, psychology, physiology and law. Whereas, engineers are specialists in a small area of building science, such as mechanical systems or structures. In contrast, the architectural engineer is usually a more pragmatic designer who uses specialized engineering knowledge to create a building.
Architectural engineers have a much stronger knowledge of building systems and structural characteristics than architects, but they have a more holistic approach to structural design than engineers. Typically, an engineer will choose a column or beam that perfectly meets the requirements of structural loads, whereas the architectural engineer will choose elements that are in harmony with one another and the overall structure.
Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing Systems
The architectural engineer works with mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers to choose systems that integrate seamlessly with a structure. Though a traditional architect has a strong understanding of these systems, the architectural engineer has more training with these technical aspects of building design.
Architectural Engineering Specialties
Most universities offering architectural engineering degrees require students to choose a specialty in the building sciences. Although architectural engineering requires knowledge of all topics, the specialty allows the architectural engineering student to become an expert in a building aspect of his or her choosing. Therefore, certain architectural engineers may offer expertise beyond any engineer or architect for special building types. For example, an architectural engineer with a specialty in acoustics will be a better theater or auditorium designer than a traditional architect or engineer.
Architectural engineers are trained in building design, like an architect; however, they approach the design more practically -- relying on the nature and form of the structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems to define the architectural form. In contrast, the architect will use the building systems, as well as societal and artistic needs, to define a building's design.