ORIGIN: Starting the Conversation

What is an Architectural Engineer?

11.04.13 by Kenna Chapin

This is a discussion that I have had several times with relatives, friends and other engineers as a graduate of the Architectural Engineering program at Oklahoma State University, and in my role as a committee member and past board member of the Architectural Engineering Institute of ASCE.

An architectural engineer is not an engineer who wants to use this title as a route to practice architecture. Some architectural engineers may have an architectural background, but to practice architecture an individual should have the proper education from an accredited program, pass the Architectural Registration Exam and be licensed in the states where they practice.

Architectural engineers have a focus and passion in the design of the engineered systems and construction of buildings. Architectural engineers typically specialize in the design of one or more of the engineered systems in the building such as the structural, HVAC systems, plumbing, electrical, lighting or acoustical systems in a building. They also may specialize in the construction management and operation of buildings. In other words, architectural engineers are engineers who work on a team with architects to design buildings.

A graduate of one of the architectural engineering university program may describe themselves as an architectural engineer. The number of universities offering an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited degree program in Architectural Engineering in the United States is only 18, compared to more than 200 universities offering degrees in Civil Engineering. Architectural Engineering programs have a rich tradition at many universities and graduates of these programs are highly regarded by the firms who hire them. Many of the engineers at Wallace Engineering are graduates of one of these Architectural Engineering programs.

I am proud to be a graduate of an architectural engineering program. It was a challenging experience. My background included courses in architectural design and history. Architectural engineering programs include courses that give students a background in the necessary theory and additionally in the design of engineered systems for buildings. Most of the programs require the students to meet a high standard of minimum admission requirements to their programs. The programs often include a capstone design course with review and critique from a professional jury.

I recommend an education at one of the universities offering an ABET accredited architectural engineering program to any individual who wants to design the structural, mechanical, and electrical systems or manage the construction of a building. However, an engineer who focuses on the design of these systems for buildings is an architectural engineer in my opinion.

I was honored to be asked to chair the Architectural Engineering Institute’s Task Committee responsible for the preparation and facilitation of the ASCE Charles Pankow Foundation Architectural Engineering Competition. I saw the competition as an exciting opportunity to show off the talents and abilities of these student teams to professionals that may not be familiar with the architectural engineering degree programs.

The emphases and evaluation criteria for this competition reflect the practice of architectural engineering. The competition emphasizes collaboration, competition, peer review, and the integration of the engineered systems and construction management plan for a high performance building. The students are encouraged to work together in multi-disciplinary teams and consider how the engineered systems work with or enhance the architecture of the building.

Competition submittals are evaluated based on the following:
– Originality and innovative character of the design
– Integration and collaboration
– Sustainability, energy efficiency and economics of the design: cost and benefit of the solution; including estimated life span; and life cycle analysis/consideration
– And Project management.

The jury members for the competition have been impressed by the professional quality and presentation skills of the student team participants. The competition between the architectural engineering programs is beneficial for all of the participating programs and the submittals keep improving in quality every year. It has been a rewarding experience for all involved with the competition.

This same emphasis on integration, collaboration, originality, innovation and peer review describes the type of structural design work that the Architectural Engineers at Wallace Engineering do for our clients everyday.

3 Responses

  1. […] and it had a link to this site. I want to reflect my thoughts over the post I just read by Kenna Chapmin. First off, I want to say I just made the connection that she attends Oklahoma State University, […]

  2. Max Jones says:

    Thanks for explaining what an architectural engineer does. My friend is interested in architectural engineering. I’ll tell him to read this article as he does research on architectural engineering.

  3. The goal of an architectural engineer is to design high-performance buildings that are robust, sustainable, and economically feasible. Thank you for sharing this information!

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Kenna Chapin, PE, F.AEI


Kenna received her Bachelor of Architectural Engineering and Master of Architectural Engineering from Oklahoma State University. She is a licensed Professional Engineer in Oklahoma. Kenna…

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