Civil E. background transitioning into Architecture


Hey y'all, I've been lurking architect for a little over a year now. I've had an interest in the field of architecture for awhile now, but perhaps sparked it too late. I'm already a 3rd year Civil Engineering student, as I chose the field since my dad operates his own firm and decided to follow in his footsteps. I soon learnt the field isn't exactly very appealing to me, but I'm still deciding to finish my bachelors because of time and money invested, as doing a b.arch now would still take 5 years due to studio sequences..

I've read up a lot on the salary issues and such that come with being an architect. However, I was wondering if my Civil E. background would help me in terms of business or even employment at A&E firms or operating my own. I'm choosing to focus on more on the structural side of things in this discipline, which at least coincides with architecture to some extent.

Of course an M.Arch is quite an investment, but could anyone shed any light as to whether they know anyone that has had a similar background and done what I'm trying to achieve? I realize getting two licenses is very time consuming as well, so I think I would opt to get my P.Eng first if it were at all possible to work whilst going to school (although I hear it isn't)

I realize success is relative, and any answers will be vague, but I'm hoping that my engineering degree can be of some use to leverage my career forward to practice something I enjoy and see financial success 

Aug 11, 14 8:35 pm

I've read up a lot on the salary issues and such that come with being an architect. However, I was wondering if my Civil E. background would help me in terms of business or even employment at A&E firms or operating my own.

It can't hurt, obviously, but I don't think an engineering degree is going to make a huge difference in the economics of your architectural practice.  You are ultimately either an architect with a better knowledge of engineering or an engineer with more refined design sensibility.  But, are the clients going to pay a vastly different fee?  Or, are you going to be able to produce the work significantly more efficiently?  I doubt it.

I worked for an architect once who had a structural engineering degree as well as an architectural degree.  Sure, it helped him at the margin, but it didn't really make any miraculous difference in his practice.  Architecture is just a piss poor profession from the money standpoint.  Either accept it or stay away.  My humble opinion.

Aug 12, 14 2:21 pm
x intern

take a look at santiago calatrava.   

Aug 12, 14 3:15 pm



I suppose I just have a hard time accepting that architecture can't be a successful/profitable business if done right. I don't know if that's because all the pessimism just seems to attract itself to forums (I noticed this does happen a lot), I'm sure there's some truth to it, but I'm trying to see as much light in the situation as I can. I thought perhaps being able to practice both engineering and architecture might makeself more profitable if/when I go out on my own, as I can provide more than just one service to make an income.. also as a fallback of sorts I suppose


robbmc: thank you! I was looking for an example like that, reading up on him was very informative. it's interesting how highly esteemed he is in both the engineering and design world. 


I'm not a firm believer that you must conform yourself to identifying as one thing, I can't see why you can't be an engineer and architect and still practice both to a good extent.. some people may think it's spreading yourself thin, or being a jack of all trades, but I see potential for more growth in this path, at least for myself that is. 

Aug 12, 14 4:34 pm

Actually Calatrava has hit some bumps in the road. Seems his projects cost the world to build and have a reputation for falling apart. A lot of his clients are not happy campers, many publicly speaking out and seeking legal action. On the other hand the very beautiful Pons Fabricius bridge in Rome has been standing since 62 BC and in daily use since. Beautiful design and unbelievable civil engineering.

Aug 12, 14 6:00 pm

Your ideas are noble, but the reality is that you will probably have to specialize in one field or another.  Having a structural understanding of how buildings are assembled won't  hurt you in the practice of architecture, but it won't get you some huge pay increase over your peers either.  The reality is that if you get out of your BSCE program, you will have to work from 2-5 years before you can sit for your PE exam, then go to a 3-3.5 year masters program in architecture and work for another 2-4 before you will finish IDP and take all your ARE exams.  So you are looking at a 7-11 year process to get licensed in both architecture and engineering, but in that accelerated track, it doesn't mean you will be very good in either field.  I tend to agree with the 10,000 hour rule (5-6 years of solid practice) before you can consider yourself an expert in a field or profession.  There is nothing worse than a PE that sits for the exam right after they finished their work requirement and pass (especially if the state only have a 2 year rule).  They are so wet behind the ears it is unreal.  Both of the fields you intend to work in take a lifetime to master.  You can go for both, but I think you will quickly realize that you will have to choose one or the other or be mediocre in both.  

Aug 12, 14 6:08 pm


Finish what you started. There is something about civil engineering that peaked your interest. See it through. Then, if you're still interested in architecture, then by all means go for it. I'm in my 3rd year pursuing a M. Arch. Its hard, just like anything else that is worth pursuing.

Aug 12, 14 9:23 pm
x intern

I drive across one of Calatrava's bridges everyday.  The thing is amazing, its complete overkill and white in Texas not the best choice but still its one of the most predominate landmarks in Dallas.  I think being a structural engineer would allow you to press the envelope on the structural side more than most purely structural engineers would be comfortable accepting.  In my experience they factor the required, double it then add a 25% safety factor.   

Aug 13, 14 10:14 am

I forget which one, but one of Calatrava's bridges needed weights added to keep the cables taut - added over 30% of overruns to the cost.  I personally find it offensive to have him associated with engineering.  His track record hasn't been very impressive.  

Pier Luigi Nervi, Frei Otto are more appropriate along the lines of great design engineers.  In structural, you'll have to have a MS degree to be able to work on higher end projects - firms generally have it as a base requirement - go look up Arup's careers page as an example.

I have a BS in CE and went for MLA and MArch - a few faculty I know have had both (and some both licenses).  Everyone I have known that has studied both has advised to pick one path and be great at it rather than half-ass both.  The liability insurance alone makes it prohibitive except in the highest echelons anyway.  

I will say that it is helpful to understand the different fields, how they think and why they are concerned about different areas when working on projects.  It helps resolving challenges on projects much easier when you can converse with the allied professions.  That being said, degrees are time and money.  If you're going to pursue both MS and MArch, try to find a program that will provide scholarships and grants (MS programs often do, MArch much less so - you can use the MS funding to cover parts of a MArch)

Aug 13, 14 1:46 pm

A lot of helpful answers and some insight.


@3tk , 

I figured you'd have to eventually focus on one or the other, and if going back for an M. Arch I would focus on architecture likely. The topic was mainly because I was curious as to how it would affect your own practice. I think I would still pursue both licenses. 

Aug 13, 14 10:14 pm

Experience is important in architecture, more important than degrees. That isn't just my opinion, you will hear it from most everyone. I interned for a civil/structural engineer for 6 months and I found it helpful to see that side, but 4 years of school and 2 years of engineering internship along with the architecture degree and internship would have been too much (for me). Why not get degrees in business, conflict resolution, interior design and landscape design too? Because some study and understanding in each is good, but additional degrees have opportunity costs. Just my two cents.

Aug 14, 14 8:03 am

Once you have your license in both in practice, you'd pay liability insurance for both - especially if you're planning on using both stamps.  Liability insurance is a huge chunk of the cost of doing business and you have to find a way of making it work (in most states you'll be paying for insurance for 7yrs after project completion).  You'll also spend time on continuing education not just for the license, but to ensure you remain competitive in both fields.  It's a lot of time and money, not quite sure if too many people run successful practices doing both themselves.  Maybe for design/build firms?

Aug 14, 14 10:03 am


Ah I wasn't aware that liability insurance for both licenses would be such a hefty cost - thank you for informing me of that, I made this thread to get information like that. 

I suppose I wouldn't do both operations solely myself, but initially it would help get things started. 

Aug 14, 14 12:44 pm

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