What is civil engineering?

What is civil engineering?

An insight into civil engineering, including the different subdisciplines and why it's integral to today's society.

Civil engineering plays a major role in shaping the world around us. It’s a fascinating and diverse field of engineering that’s responsible for many of the day-to-day functions that we take for granted. From roads and railways to hospitals and schools, civil engineers are responsible for developing and maintaining our environment’s key infrastructure.

The application of civil engineering traces back to Medieval times when humans recognised the need for shelter and transportation. The Egyptian pyramids were recorded as the first large civil-engineered structures and now, almost everything around us falls into this same category.

It’s a dynamic and multidisciplinary field that’s critical in today’s world, but it extends much further than merely designing and building structures. Whether you’re looking to become a civil engineer or are simply intrigued by the subject, this blog aims to provide a top-level overview of everything you need to know about civil engineering.

This blog will cover:

What is civil engineering in simple terms?

Civil engineering is all about designing, constructing and maintaining the infrastructure around us. Its primary goal is to provide society with safe, sustainable, and functional structures and systems that enhance our quality of life.

It applies scientific and mathematical principles to ensure the safety, efficiency and durability of structures whilst considering the environmental impact, cost-effectiveness, and societal needs.

It’s the driving force behind supplying power and clean water to our homes, allowing us to travel from A to B via train, plane or road, and providing us with safe and secure buildings to reside in.

Now, this is of course a very broad range of examples which make up the different types of civil engineering, but we’ll come onto that later. The main takeaway here is that civil engineering covers all aspects of a project – from conception and design to construction and maintenance in order to develop critical infrastructure.

what is civil engineering

Why is civil engineering important?

To put it simply, society, as we know it today, wouldn’t exist without civil engineering.

If we rewind many decades, the principles of civil engineering were required to develop our transportation infrastructure, utilities such as power, internet connectivity and water supplies, and safe and reliable buildings. It’s never the case that once these are developed, the job’s done. There’s always a requirement for new civil engineering projects and effective maintenance of existing ones.

Some of the key reasons for importance include:

Infrastructure development

Responsible for the design, construction, and maintenance of essential infrastructure. This includes buildings, roads, bridges, airports, water supply systems, dams, and more. These structures form the backbone of a functional society, enabling transportation, communication, and the provision of vital services.

Public safety

Prioritising the safety and well-being of the public, civil engineers ensure that structures are designed to withstand various forces, such as gravity, wind, earthquakes, and traffic. Through rigorous analysis and adherence to building codes and regulations, civil engineering practices minimise the risk of structural failures and protect lives.

Economic growth

Civil engineering is key to infrastructure development which in turn drives economic growth and allows businesses to thrive by providing the foundation for commerce and industry. Well-planned transportation systems, efficient roads, and reliable utilities facilitate the movement of goods and services, attracting investments and fostering economic activity.

Environmental sustainability

Eco-friendly practices are continuously developed and civil engineering projects typically revolve around minimising the ecological footprint of projects, implementing green technologies and managing waste.

Disaster mitigation

The process means that structures and infrastructure are in a way that mitigates the impact of natural disasters and enables them to withstand seismic activity, flooding, hurricanes, and other natural hazards.

civil engineering of transportation system

What are the different types of civil engineering?

As we touched on earlier, civil engineering is an extremely broad term used to describe various different subdisciplines within a complex sector. Each discipline is focused on solving real-world problems and all play a vital role in developing the world around us.

The five main types of civil engineering are:

Structural engineering

This focuses on the design and analysis of the structural elements that make up major infrastructure such as buildings, bridges and dams. It ensures that structures can withstand loads and forces, such as gravity, wind, earthquakes, and traffic, whilst maintaining safety and functionality.

Transportation engineering

This does exactly what it says on the tin and is concerned with designing and managing transportation systems such as roads, railways, airports, and ports. Key factors considered within this discipline include traffic flow, safety and environmental impacts in order to develop sustainable and efficient transportation networks.

Environmental engineering

An incredibly important aspect of civil engineering, this focuses on the protection and preservation of the environment around us, addressing issues related to water and air quality, waste management, pollution control, and sustainable development.

Construction engineering

This involves the design, management and development of both public and residential constructions. Think homes, commercial buildings and warehouses, all of which must be designed under relevant specifications.

Geotechnical engineering

The primary focus of geotechnical engineering is on the engineering behaviour of earth materials. In other words, understanding how construction projects such as roads, bridges and canals interact with the ground beneath us.

This type of engineering involves analysis and assessment to determine the risks to the environment and humans that can arise from natural hazards such as sinkholes and earthquakes.

civil engineering work on a bridge

The importance of civil engineering expertise

It goes without saying that civil engineering is a complex and specialised field, requiring specific expertise and skills to address the unique challenges associated with different types of projects.

Every major infrastructure across the globe has a team of civil engineers behind it, from Dubai’s Palm Islands and the Great Wall of China to the London Underground. Developing these types of engineering projects requires a deep understanding of the requirements and risks associated, in order to ensure a safe and efficient outcome.

This is why many companies will enlist the help of specialist civil engineer consultants such as DOCAN, to tap into that expertise where the in-house resources may be lacking. Our highly skilled and experienced structural and civil engineers have worked across a wide scope of projects across various different industries, with the transferable skills needed to take projects from concept to completion.

We support clients in all aspects of design, construction and feasibility, specialising in solving advanced engineering problems such as assessing the impact of dynamic loads.

Click here to gain a better insight into our services, or read our latest structural engineering case study which perfectly depicts the type of work we carry out for our clients in one aspect of civil engineering.