Civil engineering is one of the oldest branches of engineering in existence, second only to military engineering. Civil engineers have an impact on every aspect of our lives, however, if they’re doing their job right, we should never have to think about the work that they’ve done.
Civil engineers design, build and maintain the infrastructure that allows us to go about our daily lives. They are responsible for the power stations that provide us with electricity, and they’re responsible for the water treatment and sewage plants that give us access to clean drinking water, toilets, and showers. They even design the roads that we drive on, and the airports that we pass through when we go on holiday.
Whenever you use an airport, a park, a skyscraper, a road, or even a train station, you’re using something that a civil engineer designed. You probably don’t think much about the work that went in to making those buildings; after all, on a day-to-day basis, those buildings just work, however, a lot of planning went in to making sure that was the case.
Sustainability and Planning
Take the example of an airport. While airports aren’t exactly the nicest places to navigate, or to wait around in, they have been carefully designed to minimise the amount of stress you face when you navigate them. You arrive at an airport, drop off your bags, clear security, check out the shops on the other side, head to your gate, then get on the plane. When your plane arrives at its destination, you get off the plane, flash your passport, collect your bags, grab a drink at the landside shopping area, and head to your hotel.
Engineers had to carefully design the airport so that the terminals were positioned in areas where planes could land safely, and they had to lay out the interior of the airport so that the secure areas and public areas were clearly separated. As much as possible, the designers wanted everyone in the airport to be heading in the same direction. If you’ve ever had to “swim upstream”, perhaps to go back and check in a bag, you’ll know how annoying it is to have to fight against the flow of traffic.
Civil engineers have to figure out how to design such large buildings, and have to worry about the logistics of making it happen. It took seven years and 37 separate applications to get permission to build Heathrow Terminal 5. That’s a lot of paperwork!
Sustainability is an increasingly important concern for engineers. Over the last few years a lot of legislation has been introduced to ensure that new buildings are made using sustainable materials, and that they are designed to be as energy efficient as possible. Even small changes to the layout and structure of an office building can make a huge difference to the amount of energy required to heat the building and provide adequate lighting. Those big windows and solar panels you see in offices aren’t there for aesthetics – every pane and panel is there to serve a purpose, and the designers probably spent months tweaking and researching their design.