Civil Engineering Civil Engineering

What is Civil Engineering? | Breaking Down the Basics

Civil engineering is designing, developing, and maintaining constructed and naturally built environments using physical and scientific principles. Airports, bridges, buildings, canals, dams, pipelines, power plants, railways, roads, sewage systems, and other infrastructure are included.

Civil engineering projects can be large or small in scale and can come from the public sector, government agencies, or the private sector, with civil engineers working in fields such as planning, budgeting, project and asset management, research, analysis, and more.

Civil engineering is the second-oldest engineering discipline, after military engineering, and was developed to distinguish civilian engineering from military engineering. As a result, civil engineering is a broad discipline with several sub-disciplines. Because of the broad scope and long history of civil engineering, its development as a discipline is inextricably linked to the advancement of human knowledge in fields such as physics, mathematics, structures and construction, geography, Geology, hydrology, environmental and materials sciences, mechanics, and others.

Scientific principles, such as those developed by the ancient Greek Archimedes of Syracuse, were applied as they became known, assisting in the advancement of engineering, which continues to this day with new innovations and research.

History of civil engineering?

Historically, it is difficult to pinpoint precisely when civil engineering became a recognized discipline. Civil engineering was undoubtedly used to build fundamental structures even before it had a name. Early humans constructed simple structures and vessels to cross rivers, which was undoubtedly accomplished using primitive civil engineering techniques. As soon as humans abandoned a nomadic existence and began to construct, civil engineering was there to provide the necessary skills and instruments. They simply had no idea that thousands of years later, these skills would be referred to as “civil engineering.”

People believe that John Smeaton was the first civil engineer, and he is often called the “Father of Civil Engineering.” During the Industrial Revolution, he worked on making windmills and waterwheels. He also wrote a study about how the speed and pressure of things moving through the air are related.

Also, Read How to Become an Industrial Engineer: Ultimate Guide to Career

Civil engineering has existed since the beginning of human history. There are examples of civil engineering that date back more than 4,000 years. Consider what the ancient Egyptians were able to accomplish prior to the invention of cranes and drones. Imhotep, who constructed the famous stepped pyramid for King Djoser, was one of the earliest primordial engineers documented in history. The stepped pyramid still remains to this day.

However, the distinction between architecture and civil engineering was somewhat hazy. Imhotep could be considered both an architect and an engineer. Before the modern era, there was no obvious distinction between architects and civil engineers. Throughout ancient history, stonemasons and craftsmen were responsible for the majority of structural design and engineering. The knowledge underlying their methodologies was preserved in guilds and passed down through the generations. However, these early techniques were not without flaws. Ancient infrastructure was frequently quite repetitive and lacked rapid innovation.


Civil Engineering in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Not until the 18th century was the term “civil engineering” coined. France established the first civil engineering school in 1747. The institution was known as The National School of Bridges and Highways. The first self-proclaimed civil engineer was a man named John Smeaton. Eventually, Smeaton would establish the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers, whose members served as industry executives. Even though this was more of a social group than a technical one, the networking and conversation that occurred there influenced the design and construction of numerous 18th-century buildings.

Institution of Civil Engineers, the first engineering society in the world, was established in London in 1818. The Institution of Civil Engineers was granted a Royal Charter in 1828, officially recognizing civil engineering as a profession. Here is what the document stated:

Civil engineering is the application of physical and scientific principles, and its history is intricately connected to historical advances in physics and mathematics. The history of civil engineering is intertwined with knowledge of structures, material science, geography, geology, soil, hydrology, environment, mechanics, and other fields due to the profession’s breadth and diversity.

Civil Engineering as a Career

John Smeaton, the first self-proclaimed professional civil engineer, founded the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers in 1771 with colleagues who met informally over dinner. This was more of a social association, and it was quickly surpassed by the Institution of Civil Engineers, which was founded in London in 1818 and gained a Royal Charter in 1828, thus recognizing civil engineering as a profession. Civil engineering was specified in the charter as:

“The art of directing nature’s great sources of power for the use and convenience of man, as a means of production and traffic in states, both for external and internal trade, as applied in the construction of roads, bridges, aqueducts, canals, river navigation, and docks for internal intercourse and exchange, and in the construction of ports, harbors, moles, breakwaters, and lighthouses, and in the art of navigation by artificial power for the purposes of commerce.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) was founded in the United States in 1852.

Don’t miss it: 2023 Comprehensive Career Guide for Civil Engineering Professionals


Civil Engineers Salary

The average salary for a civil engineer in the United States is $88,050 per year. The highest-paid 25% of civil engineers make $117,270 per year, while the lowest-paid 25% make $74,250 per year.

The salary for a civil engineer can vary depending on a number of factors, including experience, education, location, and industry. Civil engineers with a master’s degree or higher typically earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree. Civil engineers who work in urban areas or in the oil and gas industry typically earn more than those who work in rural areas or in other industries.

Here are some of the factors that can affect the salary of a civil engineer

  • Experience: Civil engineers with more experience typically earn more than those with less experience.
  • Education: Civil engineers with a master’s degree or higher typically earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree.
  • Location: Civil engineers who work in urban areas or in the oil and gas industry typically earn more than those who work in rural areas or in other industries.
  • Industry: Civil engineers who work in government or in the private sector typically earn different salaries.
  • Certification: Civil engineers who are certified by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) typically earn more than those who are not certified.

Here are some of the steps you can take to increase your salary as a civil engineer

  • Get more experience: The more experience you have, the more you will earn. Look for opportunities to take on leadership roles and to work on complex projects.
  • Get a master’s degree: A master’s degree can help you earn a higher salary.
  • Get certified: Getting certified by the ASCE can help you earn a higher salary.
  • Network: Networking with other civil engineers can help you find new job opportunities and negotiate higher salaries.
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends: Staying up-to-date on the latest industry trends can help you make valuable contributions to your team and earn a higher salary.

Civil Engineering Education

In 1747, France founded the first institution for educating civil engineering, the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, which was quickly followed by similar institutions in other European nations.

Norwich University, founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge, was the first private college in the United States to educate the profession, however, the first degree in civil engineering conferred in the United States came from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1835. Nora Stanton Blatch was the first woman in the United States to receive a degree in civil engineering from Cornell University in 1905.

Meanwhile, as the Industrial Revolution gathered momentum in the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century, civil engineering became distinct from military engineering. This resulted in the establishment of educational initiatives such as the Class of Civil Engineering and Mining, which was established in 1838 at King’s College London in response to the need for skilled engineers to work on the railway system. The private College for Civil Engineers was founded in Putney in 1838, and the University of Glasgow created the UK’s first Chair of Engineering in 1840.

Because of these educational possibilities for civil engineers, a degree in civil engineering was now achievable, opening the door to a plethora of jobs for competent professionals.


Different types of civil engineering

Civil engineering is a vast field that includes various specialized sub-disciplines that cover a variety of sectors and include both practical and theoretical responsibilities. These several forms of civil engineering are distinguished by a combination of location and specialization.

Here’s a brief overview of a few of these key subdivisions.


1. General Civil Engineering

These civil engineers, also known as site engineers, collaborate with surveyors and other civil engineers to design services such as drainage, dams, electrical supply infrastructure, pavements, sewer systems, communications infrastructures, and more. This form of engineering is often focused on changing the usage of a piece of land. This includes site visits, talks with stakeholders, construction planning and development, and assessing potential environmental implications.

2. Structural Engineering

Civil engineering’s structural engineering branch encompasses all structural analysis and the design of structures. They are responsible for analyzing and designing load-bearing and stress-resistant structures. Their designs must adhere to all project specifications and safety standards. To ensure public safety, their structures must be able to withstand natural disasters, environmental conditions, and design criteria and codes.

Projects structural engineers work on include:

  • Collaborating with architects to design and construct structures including wastewater treatment plants, skyscrapers, apartments, temples, and more.
  • Designing bridges, tunnels, or overpasses
  • Analyzing the wind’s effect on structures
  • evaluating the seismic response of structures
  • Supervising the construction of buildings, such as homes, commercial structures, and institutions
  • Consulting on construction or maintenance
  • Practically every structure that is being designed, constructed, or repaired can benefit from the presence of a structural engineer for a variety of reasons.

3. Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineering is a subfield of civil engineering that investigates the environmental effects of projects. Environmental Engineers study and evaluate, to name a few, impacts on cultural resources, noise, endangered and threatened species, water quality, air quality, wetlands, and socio-economic impacts. Their objective is to identify the environmental impacts of a project and recommend methods to eliminate or mitigate them. The objective of environmental engineering is to assist in the development of projects that have the least negative impact on the natural environment.

The following are examples of undertakings in which environmental engineers would be involved:

  • Environmental evaluation, such as sediment and groundwater impact assessment
  • Assessing wetland and stream impacts precisely through delineation, determination, and categorization
  • Creating mitigation plans that eradicate or compensate for environmental resource impacts.
  • Providing project implementation alternatives to prevent impacts on species of concern, including endangered species
  • Contributing to the development of remedies for environmental problems such as erosion control, water or air pollution
  • Working with districts, municipalities, and counties to address issues of stormwater discharge pollution
  • Coordinating with local, state, and federal agency oversight to achieve project objectives and safeguard environmental resources in the most reasonable manner.
  • This subdiscipline of civil engineering is indispensable for long-term, sustainable initiatives that prioritize the environment and public health.

4. Geotechnical Engineering

Frequently collaborating with geologists and soil scientists, these Geotechnical engineers investigate the rock and soil conditions for foundations, retaining walls, and supporting structures. This is made more challenging by the variable soil behavior.

Read: The Importance of Geotechnical Engineering in Construction Projects


5. Transportation Engineering

Transportation engineers design and oversee the development of transportation infrastructure. Typical transportation infrastructure includes roads, highways, airports, railroads, bicycle/pedestrian paths, waterways, and public transit infrastructure. These projects can range in scale from minor road widening projects to major freeway interchange projects, from pedestrian pathways to multi-lane highway bridges.

The following are some of the specialized areas in which a transportation civil engineer is employed:

  • Highway transportation engineering
  • Air transportation engineering
  • Waterway transportation engineering
  • Aerospace transportation engineering
  • Transportation infrastructure in cities
  • Examples of transportation engineer initiatives include:
  • Highway or freeway improvements
  • Redesigning crossroads
  • assessing stop signs and traffic signals
  • Traffic impact study
  • Creating citywide traffic strategies

Transportation engineering emphasizes the design and implementation of transportation infrastructures that are safe, comfortable, economical, convenient, and environmentally friendly.

6. Water and Wastewater Engineering

Water and Wastewater engineers plan, design, and oversee the building of municipal water supply systems and wastewater treatment systems. Each form of system is constructed in accordance with industry standards and codes to ensure that drinking water meets public safety requirements and that wastewater treatment systems do not negatively impact the environment.

Examples of undertakings in which Water and Wastewater engineers would be involved:

  • Wastewater investigations to determine the most efficient and secure method of collecting, treating, and transporting blackwater, greywater, and irrigation water.
  • Collaborating with municipalities or counties to construct potable water treatment facilities

7. Surveying

Quantity surveying is the estimation of the total cost of a project, including the cost of the materials used in its construction. One of the most crucial aspects of project management is estimating the costs. The estimation of costs helps to determine a baseline for the projected amount of money that will be spent on a project at its various stages of development.

Also, read How to Become a Quantity Surveyor: The Ultimate Guide

8. Construction engineering

Using environmental, geotechnical, hydraulic, and structural engineering skills, construction engineers are involved in the planning, transportation, and usage of construction materials. This function typically requires a significant amount of contract drafting, logistics, and supply monitoring in order to develop plans that may afterward be utilized by construction managers.


9. Municipal / Urban Engineering

This discipline of civil engineering deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of various urban structures, assets, and networks. These include, among other things, streets, pavements, water supply systems, sewers and waste management/disposal, bulk materials storage, lighting, parks, and bicycle infrastructure. Municipal engineering overlaps with many other disciplines of civil engineering, but its primary focus is on coordinating these structures and services with other professionals under the same municipal authority.

10. Coastal Engineering

This discipline of civil engineering is concerned with the management of coastal areas, particularly the prevention of flooding and coastal erosion. It is also known as coastal defense, coastal protection, and coastal management.


11. Environmental Engineering

This engineering discipline is the current equivalent of what was originally known as sanitary engineering. In addition to the treatment of chemical, biological, and thermal waste, recycling, and the cleaning of the air, land, and water, it now encompasses hazardous waste management and environmental rehabilitation. Environmental engineers are also involved in determining the environmental impact of proposed actions.

Civil Engineering Challenges and Solutions.


Civil engineers face a variety of difficulties in their profession. Among the most common difficulties are:

  • Budgetary restraints: Civil engineering projects can be quite costly, and civil engineers must frequently discover ways to cut costs while maintaining quality.
  • Time limitations: Civil engineering projects frequently have tight timelines, which need civil engineers to operate efficiently and effectively to achieve those constraints.
  • Safety concerns: Civil engineering projects can be hazardous, and civil engineers must always take precautions to keep themselves and their employees safe.
  • Environmental concerns: Civil engineering projects can have a substantial environmental impact, and civil engineers must be aware of these impacts and take action to mitigate them.

Despite these obstacles, civil engineers play an important role in society. They are in charge of developing and constructing the infrastructure on which we rely every day, from roads and bridges to water systems and power plants. Civil engineers are also in charge of assuring the safety and reliability of our infrastructure.

There are several solutions to the problems that civil engineers encounter. Among the most promising solutions are:

  • New technologies: 3D printing and artificial intelligence, for example, can help civil engineers perform more efficiently and effectively.
  • Collaboration: Civil engineers can collaborate with other experts, such as architects and environmental scientists, to develop solutions that solve all of the issues associated with a certain project.
  • Public engagement: Civil engineers can collaborate with the public to gather feedback on their projects and generate support for them.

Civil engineers can overcome problems and continue to develop and build the infrastructure that our society requires by working together.


In addition to the issues listed above, civil engineers must deal with the following:

  • Climate change: Climate change is already having an impact on our infrastructure and is projected to have a greater influence in the future. Civil engineers must design and construct infrastructure capable of withstanding the consequences of climate change, such as extreme weather events and increasing sea levels.
  • Globalization: The global economy is becoming more integrated, which has a significant impact on the civil engineering business. Civil engineers must be competent to work on projects in various countries and cultures.
  • The aging population: The United States population is aging, putting a burden on our infrastructure. Civil engineers must design and construct infrastructure that is both accessible and safe for the elderly.

Despite these obstacles, the future of civil engineering looks promising. The demand for civil engineers is likely to increase in the next years, and civil engineers will play an important role in tackling today’s difficulties.

Future of civil engineering

The future of civil engineering is bright. The profession is expected to grow at a rate of 7% from 2021 to 2031, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth will be driven by a number of factors, including:

  • The need to improve and expand infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and water systems.
  • The need to address climate change and its effects on infrastructure.
  • The need to develop new technologies and materials for civil engineering projects.
  • Civil engineers will play a critical role in addressing these challenges. They will need to be skilled in a variety of areas, including:
  • Engineering design
  • Construction management
  • Project management
  • Environmental science
  • Sustainability

Civil engineers will also need to be able to work in a variety of settings, from large corporations to small businesses to government agencies.

Learn More How to Become a Civil Engineer: A Step-by-Step Guide

The future of civil engineering is exciting and challenging. Civil engineers will have the opportunity to make a real difference in the world by designing and building the infrastructure that our society needs.


Here are some specific trends that are expected to shape the future of civil engineering:

  • Sustainability: Civil engineers will be increasingly focused on designing and building sustainable infrastructure. This includes using green building materials, incorporating renewable energy sources, and designing for water conservation.
  • Climate change: Civil engineers will need to design and build infrastructure that can withstand the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events and rising sea levels.
  • Technology: New technologies, such as 3D printing and artificial intelligence, are revolutionizing the civil engineering industry. Civil engineers will need to be familiar with these technologies in order to stay ahead of the curve.

A variety of new technologies are shaping the future of civil engineering, including:


Building Information Modelling (BIM)

BIM is a method of representing the physical and functional aspects of a building or infrastructure project using 3D models. BIM can be used to improve project planning, design, construction, and maintenance.


Drones can be used in civil engineering for a range of functions such as surveying, inspection, and building. Drones can deliver real-time data and photographs to civil engineers, allowing them to make better judgments.


Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is being utilized in civil engineering to automate tasks, improve productivity, and make better judgments. AI may be used to discover structural flaws, forecast traffic patterns, and optimize building timetables.

Read More: Important Artificial Intelligence in Civil Engineering


 In civil engineering, robots are utilized to do dangerous or repetitive activities. Buildings can be demolished, structures welded, and bricks laid by robots.


3D printing: What is it?

 Prototypes, molds, and even whole structures are being created via 3D printing. Complex shapes and structures that would be difficult or impossible to produce using traditional methods can be created with 3D printing.

These are just a few of the new technologies reshaping the civil engineering business. As these technologies advance, they will have a significant impact on how civil engineers plan, build, and maintain our infrastructure.

Here are some specific applications of these technologies in the civil engineering industry:

BIM is being used in the design and construction of New York City’s new One World Trade Centre. Engineers were able to anticipate possible difficulties and make improvements before construction began by using BIM to produce a 3D model of the complete building.

Bridges and other infrastructure are being inspected for damage using drones. Drones can fly above structures that are difficult or dangerous to access and give real-time video footage that can be utilized to diagnose problems.

Artificial intelligence is being used to forecast traffic patterns. AI may be used to predict how traffic will flow on a given day by analyzing past traffic data and weather forecasts. This data can be utilized to alter traffic lights and improve transportation routes.

Buildings are being demolished using robots. Buildings that would be risky or time-consuming to demolish using traditional methods can now be demolished safely and swiftly by robots.

Custom prosthetics are being created via 3D printing. Custom prosthetics that fit exactly and are constructed of durable materials can be created using 3D printers.

These are just a few examples of how new technologies are being applied in civil engineering. As these technologies advance, they will have a significant impact on how civil engineers plan, build, and maintain our infrastructure.



Civil engineers are involved in a wide variety of projects all around the world. Some of these projects include the designing, planning, and supervising of municipal construction projects. Some examples of these projects include motorways, bridges, buildings, railways, and airports. In addition to this, civil engineers can be found working to help ensure the safety of coastal defences, ensuring that waste products are disposed of in a secure manner or recycled, creating transportation hubs, or caring for the environment.

In addition to this, the work of civil engineers involves the planning and supervision of decommissioning, as well as the investigation of failures and the maintenance of structures and assets.

After being separated from military engineering, civil engineering went on to develop into an established profession that offers chances for certification and study. Today, civil engineering is one of the industry’s largest and most diverse professions.


What is the significance of civil engineering? Why is Civil Engineering Important?

Civil engineering is vital because it makes the world more habitable by constructing buildings, bridges, highways, hospitals, airports, tunnels, stadiums, residences, and other structures. Civil engineers develop, create, and maintain the infrastructure that surrounds us and that we frequently take for granted.

What are the responsibilities of a Civil Engineer?

Developing detailed designs.
Doing feasibility assessments and site inspections.
Preparing and implementing project plans.
Researching and providing estimates for projects.
Reviewing government regulations and ordinances.
Monitoring and optimizing safety procedures, production processes, and regulatory compliance.
Making recommendations or presenting alternative solutions to problems.
Confidently liaising with clients and other professional subcontractors.
Project management duties (e.g. managing budgets, resources, and deadlines; acquiring and compiling quotes, etc.).

What will the future of civil engineering look like? How will Civil Engineering Change in the Future?

Civil engineering will continue to be vital in the future and will evolve to provide more ecologically friendly solutions. Furthermore, engineers will continue to acquire, develop, and apply new technical abilities, as well as integrate new collaborative solutions and innovations.

Are Civil Engineers in Demand?

Civil engineers are among the world’s most in-demand professionals. Civil engineering encompasses a wide range of sub-disciplines that span all forms of structures, networks, infrastructure projects, and constructions, large and small.

Are Civil Engineers Architects?

Although the terms ‘architect’ and ‘engineer’ were once used interchangeably, but civil engineers are not architects.

Both are involved in structural planning and design, but architecture is concerned with the aesthetics and functioning of a structure, whereas engineering is concerned with the structure of a design, ensuring it can resist both normal and extraordinary situations.

Architects typically lead the design of buildings and structures, determining the shape, color, and other artistic and functional parts of the design before enlisting the help of a civil engineer to guarantee the finished construction has the requisite structural integrity. The civil engineer may also be in charge of suggesting and obtaining materials, as well as advising on changes or revisions to turn the architect’s design into a workable plan. Because there is an overlap between the two professions, it is critical that they collaborate harmoniously to ensure the success of a project.

Are Civil Engineers Well Paid?

As with any job, your pay will rise as you gain experience, but civil engineering is a well-paying field. Wages vary depending on region, function, experience, and employer.

Can I pursue Civil Engineering after graduating from Architecture?

Although architecture and civil engineering are distinct professions with distinct interests and responsibilities, civil engineering can be studied after architecture. There may be some overlap, but the skills and knowledge necessary are distinct, therefore it is more of a ‘career transition’ than a ‘career progression.’ It is preferable to enter engineering straight with a degree in civil or mechanical engineering. 

Can I get a job in civil engineering if I don’t have any math skills?

As a civil engineer, you will almost probably need to use arithmetic, so you will require some level of math understanding. The specific requirements for studying civil engineering vary depending on location and institution.

Is it possible to study civil engineering online?

Yes, some colleges offer civil engineering as an online education.

Can I major in Civil Engineering without studying Chemistry?

To pursue civil engineering, you will almost probably need chemistry. Chemistry is a crucial basis for understanding the properties of various materials and the effects of environmental conditions on them, which are all important in civil engineering.

Can Civil Engineers Construct Homes?

Civil engineers may design and plan many constructions, including residences. Although architects are more concerned with a building’s utility and aesthetics than civil engineers, this does not mean that a civil engineer cannot manage much of this work as well. Of course, trained bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and so on are normally required to build a house!

Can Civil Engineers Design Houses?

A skilled civil engineer may design a home without the assistance of an architect, but architects are typically used since they contribute a separate set of crucial abilities to a structure

Can civil engineers perform remote work?

As a civil engineer, you can work from home as long as your work does not need onsite visits, inspections, or supervision. Although civil engineering may include on-site labor, it also includes a significant amount of designing, planning, drawing, evaluating data, and generating blueprints and models.

These office-based jobs can be undertaken from home and results sent by email or phone.

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