What do civil engineer do for hillside properties.​


What is the level of responsibility for civil engineer is Los Angeles California when they are required under city regulations for residential hillside properties?

Is it the civil engineer's responsibility to know the codes for retaining wall placement and height requirements?  

For example say the architect wishes to create a courtyard and roughly locates the retaining walls to show design and functional intent.  However, it is not to code and the architects tells the civil engineer that the drawings are for design/functional intent only purposes.  The architect tells the civil engineer for feedback about code requirements.  

(Civil engineering contract is NOT with the architect but with the owner.  Architect's contract with owner specifically states that the architects services does not include civil engineering services.)

Is it the civil engineers responsibility to give advice about retaining wall placement so that it follows city codes and engineering standards?  Or should the architect know the retaining wall codes so that the engineer only structurally engineers the retaining walls and show drainage flow requirement.  

Also, say the slope of certain grades are too steep to meet engineering code related requirements.  Who is responsible to give advice about this?  Is this all part of architectural services?  

If much of these responsibilities are to fall under architect's services, why is it required in the state of California to retain a license civil engineer when designing hillside properties?  

What specifically are the responsibilities that fall under the duties of the LICENSED civil engineer?  Why are they needed?

Oct 22, 17 1:50 pm

Perhaps you could contact the licensing board for Engineers? They likely have a website and a telephone.

Oct 22, 17 3:08 pm

I did a 5 second google search and found an organization of civil engineers in Los Angeles

Oct 22, 17 7:14 pm

It seems to me that the Architect should have retained the services of a structural engineer to help keep them from proposing a non-compliant solution to the Owner. At the very least they should have coordinated early on with the Owner's Civil to understand the site's constraints and how they might have impacted the design. I guess doing one's job is not as much fun as working on a sketchup model though...

Oct 22, 17 7:21 pm

Coordinating with engineers (yours or the client's) and government agencies early in the game keeps a lot of problems from happening. Sounds from your post that a nasty situation is developing on one of your projects.


geezertect- I have seen this episode before, years ago-- Echo park or Silverlake. These LA lots are steep and tricky. I have worked on some of these projects in LA where the "design" ruled, but the "design" didn't take the site into consideration, so it was an uphill battle from there. Without knowing the contract, I can assume that the Architects job is to design/ define the elements and extents of the project and the engineers job is to make calculations to demonstrate compliance with code- when non-compliance is shown, the Architect should sharpen their pencil and adjust their design for compliance. AndLee is claiming the Architect has shown the 'intent' of a courtyard which turns out to be non compliant and now appears to want Civil to adjust the design so it meets code?.. Perplexing- diagrams are available from the City of LA that show all of the


whoops... all of the code governing constructions on these lots. The Architect needs to design based on these.


In my experience, if you do anything with the soil besides gardening in the hills of LA, you'll need an engineer. Common sense really. 

Oct 23, 17 7:25 am

So, how far has your project slid down the mountain?

Oct 23, 17 11:18 am

x along the angle of repose


This isnt a one time incident with just one civil engineer.  

There's been two different civil engineers on unrelated projects.  Both civil engineers were chosen by the clients.

One civil engineer couldnt even get the retaining walls to comply with soils report.

Both civil engineers didnt know the codes well enough for placing the retaining walls for proper grading and drainage requirements.

The lead architect ended up looking up the code herself.  She ended up going to the soils engineer to get the job done.  

Both Civil Engineers said that their job is to only do the calculations.  They dont interfer with the architect's drawings.  

Is this correct?

If this is correct, what is the reason for city regulations requiring a civil engineer for hillside properties, if the retaining walls can be engineered by the structural engineer while the architect can do the grading and drainage plan?

Oct 23, 17 2:59 pm

They sound like not so great engineers in the collab part. I have a guy in Vegas. He is awesome.

The theory is people collaborate during the process. It is not a new concept.


Sounds like you may be on an "unbuildable" hillside lot.  There are many, they just transfer to different owners and make it though various levels of design development before people give up and sell.  The entire hillside ordinance was designed to shut down hillside mansions by keeping the wall count, height, offsets, and maximum slopes in check.  If your civil engineer isn't experienced in LA hillside work, find one that is.  Other issue is that if you are not versed in that type of design, you might be driving the consultants to perform work that is not appropriate or unnecessary to get approvals from the city.  Engineers, even ones that are knowledgeable in hillside work are often times on autopilot and will just execute your design even though there is no change for approval and just charge more and more for each redesign effort.  Sounds like you just don't know how to drive the design or consultants in a complicated land use municipality.  The civil engineer will only perform what is in their contract.  

Oct 23, 17 4:50 pm


The property is buildable.   The architect and I did the research and made the necessary adjustments to pass hillside regulations.  

The issue is:  Who is responsible for understanding the codes for grading and retaining walls?  

Is something wrong with the Civil Engineering industry to create so many incompetent Civil Engineers?   How could there be so much negligence and a lack of care or personal responsibility by Civil Engineers?  Have they become too dependent on the architect?  Is there something in the structure of even our own architectural industry too create so much more liability on the Architect because of some jurisdictional / legal hiccup?

Oct 23, 17 6:15 pm

Who does the signed contract say is responsible for that scope?


Usually The civil. I think there is a combination of 2 things going on. Bad communication and lousy engineers. You are responsible for placing the walls and such in plan, the civil should be responsible for the g&d, calcs, specs, details....Imo. If


*Imo if the client hired them separately you should have known that from the start and either deferred the walls to the engineer, collaborated with him/her, or known enough about retaining walls to do everything but the calls. The city will likely want Anything having to do with g&d stamped by a civil including the details of the walls.


*calcs not calls....


That's what everybody says right before they sell the property, sounds like you are in denial.  Do your job and direct your consultants to a design that works, quit blaming others for your incompetence.  If you want to do a loose sketch of wall locations and grading for a LA hillside residence and have the civil engineer spend the time solving your planning issue, you failed not them.  Every realtor will tell you these lots are buildable and they are from a legal perspective, the question is whether or not what you are entitled to build will make any economic sense.

Oct 23, 17 6:45 pm

"That rug really tied the room together, man."

Oct 23, 17 8:05 pm

"Fuck it Dude lets go bowling"


That's just, like, your opinion man

I have two used balls I got at a garage sale I am dying to roll. (not a movie quote)


Sounds to me like this is more of a "how do you deal with incompetent owner provided consultants" question.  It gets simple from there.  You advise the owner their consultant is a problem and start covering your own arse.  The owner picked the buffoon (usually on price), so let them deal with them. Your job is the building.  The rest of the lot is the owner's problem if you didn't bring the civil in under your contract.  Also... don't know CA, but civil engineers can't structurally engineer a retaining wall.  Your structural should be doing that (and it's a fairly normal add service).

(of coarse learn to say this nicely, but make sure the owner is aware this is their issue they will have to deal with)

Oct 24, 17 11:28 am

Both projects are DONE.  Finished.  Permits have been pulled for grading.

The issue is:

1.  Architect and Owner agreement says Civil engineering is not part of architectural services

2.  Building Department has required a Civil Engineer to do the grading. It's not an option. They will not accept Architect to do the grading

Who should be taking the lead on retaining wall placement?  Isnt retaining wall placement part of grading which falls under civil engineering practices?

Should it be the responsibility of the Architect to place retaining walls to code?

Oct 24, 17 3:50 pm

How could they be placed to code prior to knowing heights and adjacent grading?


It's integral

the person hired to do the work in question

to me the term "do the grading" refers to dirt

is the retaining wall visible aka part of the visual design = scope of the principal in charge of the whole collab with the engineer for the dreaded retaining wall(s)

"place retaining walls" is something a GC does

language is tricky at times


Civil Engineering is under the purview of the CE, but site design and even basic grading intent as relates to the overall design is the responsibility of the Architect. Is the CE supposed to dimension the courtyard if a retaining wall defines it's extents? Did the CE determine the extents of the building footprint and identify elevations of finish floors and yards for the residence? Did the Architect request info from the CE regarding retaining walls and code prior to this misunderstanding? My guess is No for all. Do we as a profession want CEs to have that much of a thumb on the scale of the site and building design? Arch proposes the design, CE and SE engineer it. If Arch proposes a design that doesn't work per code, why is it an Engineer's fault? My guess is it would have worked from a mathematical standpoint, but didn't meet code. Professional coordination with consulting engineers is key, as is understanding division of labor and your own professional responsibility.


an issued permit means a project is DONE? 

Oct 24, 17 8:38 pm

The architect locates the building floor levels and courtyard levels.  She locates retaining walls and specifies their maximum height levels as required by code.

Soils engineer comes in and says a retaining wall cant be located next to a property line because the proximity of the adjacent property building structure.  The adjacent property building structure may get damaged.

Who's responsibility is to make recommendations on another possible location for the retaining wall?

Also, say a retaining walls is spaced a too close together and regulations wont allow it.  Who's job is it to know about this code so that adjustments can be made?

Oct 25, 17 12:16 pm

the principal in charge of the project in consult with the consultants who work together collaboratively on functional projects. The team is responsible.


this guy is NOT a consensus builder

It seems like I have met him/her/it.


Sounds like a situation that the Architect needs to coordinate between:

- Architectural design / Landscape Architect / Civil Eng / Structural Eng / Geotechnical Eng ( soils ) all involved and relevant in a hillside build. particularly for retaining features around the building.

Oct 25, 17 1:51 pm

Looping back to the original question. I suspect they try to acquire said hillside property as do many professional valley dwellers. So the answer would change to: They try to raise the down payment. I hope this helps.

Oct 25, 17 1:55 pm

I seem to recall that the hillside ordinance and retaining wall code is a part of LA Municipal Code. Seems designing to the prevailing code would fall under the standard of care expected of an Architect. Of course when I forget to provide the required clearance in front of toilets as required by LAMC, I blame my plumbing engineer.

Oct 25, 17 10:11 pm

I hope he she doesn't take it sitting down.



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