Difference between Architecture and Civil Engineering

Most people perceive architecture as designing a building and civil engineering as the construction of a building, and while it is true, there are some other notable differences that make them distinct from each other. Learning these differences may not be crucial information to an individual, but it does help you understand the roles of an architect and a civil engineer better.


Architecture vs Civil Engineering
Theatre Le Quai, Angers with a beautiful architectural design

Architecture – Coming from the Greek word arkhitekton (chief and builder), it is a discipline that designs and plans the construction of buildings and other physical structures. It also has to do with the shape, space, and ambience of the project that will reflect functional, social, environmental, technical and aesthetic considerations. That being said, architecture requires creative manipulation and coordination of materials with technology. For the planning part of architecture, it covers the scheduling, cost estimation, and construction administration.

There are a few other definitions of the general term architecture, and these include the description of a building and other physical structures, the art and science of designing a building and non-buildings, the style of design and method of construction, the knowledge of art, science, technology in relation to people, and of course the practice of an architect.

Civil Engineering
Collapsed viaduct due to failed analysis of vertical elements

Civil Engineering – civil engineering has been with us since the beginning of human existence. The earliest practice known was between 4000 and 2000 BC when the construction of a shelter was realized. As with architecture, it deals with the design of buildings but includes the construction and maintenance of the physical and natural environment including roads, canals, dams, and bridges. In simpler terms, civil engineering is the application of physical and scientific principles for solutions for the needs of society.

Civil engineering also has sub-disciplines and these include:

  • Materials science and engineering – Focuses on characteristics of materials.
  • Coastal engineering – Focuses on managing coastal areas (defense against flooding and erosion).
  • Construction engineering – Focuses on planning and execution.
  • Earthquake engineering – Focuses on designing structures to withstand earthquake exposures.
  • Environmental engineering – Focuses on sanitary structures (treatment of chemical, biological or thermal wastes, purification of water and air, and remediation of contaminated sites).
  • Geotechnical engineering – Focuses on the study of rock and soil that supports civil engineering systems.
  • Water resources engineering – Focuses on the management and collection of water (pipelines, water supply network, and drainage facilities)
  • Structural engineering – Focuses on the design and analysis of buildings and other physical structures (strength, support, stiffness, and stability).
  • Surveying – Focuses on the conditions of the future work site, placing reference points and markers, and verifying the site location.
  • Transportation engineering – Focuses on moving people and goods safely and efficiently.
  • Forensic engineering – Focuses on investigation of products, materials and structures that fail or do not function as intended.
  • Municipal or Urban engineering – Focuses on designing, constructing, and maintaining municipal infrastructures.
  • Control engineering – Focuses on control theories (deals with behavior of dynamical systems).

Architecture vs Civil Engineering

What’s the difference between architecture and civil engineering? While both may have the same purpose of designing and the construction of physical structures, they do have their differences.

Architecture is mainly concerned with designing structures with aesthetics in mind, and with the consideration of spatial functionality. Architects may have knowledge of structural mechanics like  engineers, but their primary focus will always be the functionality, the creativity, and the appearance of the design. Civil engineering on the other hand will be more concerned with the actual construction of the project with functionality, durability, and stability in mind. With that being said, architecture will require creativity while civil engineering will require analysis, which also includes reducing the construction costs.

Talking about salary, there isn’t much difference with civil engineering ranging from $46,000 to $94,000, compared to architecture that can go from $42,000 to $96,000. Numbers will eventually depend on the region you’re in.

Comparison Chart

Architecture Civil Engineering
More on creativity (design) More on analysis (construction)
Salary can go from $42,000 to $96,000 (US region) Salary can go from $46,000 to $94,000 (US region)
Provides sufficient lighting, air circulation, etc. Provides beams, foundations, columns, roofs etc.
Provides beautification  of a structure Provides durability, stability and protection from hazardous weather.