Architect or Structural Engineering Degree?


I am looking to enter school again for a second degree in either architecture or structural engineering. Not sure which would be the best option. So here's sort of how the story goes ...

I have always been fascinated by buildings and have lately come to be interested in preservation. I want to protect and preserve existing or historic structures, to be involved in the conditioning and maintenance. So, structural engineering was the first choice that came to mind. But when looking at preservation boards, I saw a number of architecture jobs. I thought that was a bit unusual, since architects design buildings. Yeah, I would love to design buildings, but I am more inclined towards wanting to protect and preserve existing ones. And I'm not too good at art, anyway, at least not free hand, computer, different story.

I also noted a number of jobs for architectural historian. I didn't even know there was such a career. That would be kind of cool, but sounds a bit like an office job. But if it gets me to work with the building and document the structure, then I'd take that, too. But UNC - Charlotte doesn't even list that as an option.

Feb 21, 19 6:40 pm

I'm a preservation architect.  I work at a firm that specializes in restoring/renovating historic structures.  We mostly do only commercial work; many of our clients are churches, museums, and universities.  It is a really fun and unusual job.  There is a lot of problem solving involved; a lot of figuring out WHY something is failing and the best way to fix or replace it.  Because the building is existing, we don't produce renderings or physical models unless we are designing an addition.  Most of what we do is drawing by hand (when on site to document conditions) and the computer. (CAD and Revit.)   

As far as education goes, I have an architecture degree and a degree in architectural history.  (Not required for preservation work; some come to this work through arch history, architecture, or preservation degrees.)  Architectural history is much more research-based; not so much drawing, but more analyzing historical documentation and putting together a narrative from archival materials.  It is a lot of writing.  Many historians go on to either teach architects (if you go the PhD route) or work for a State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) or a non-profit.  It is HARD to find a job as a historian, and you will likely make peanuts!  (Here is a list of all of the arch history grad programs in US:   And the biggest job board for preservation jobs: )

There are also structural and mechanical engineers that specialize in historic buildings.  So that's another path to make things confusing. :)

Feb 21, 19 7:05 pm

Cool reply. After I wrote this, I came across a course offered at Edgecombe which almost exactly sounds like what I want to be doing, Historic Preservation Technology. It's also endorsed by Preservation NC. UNC Charlotte has nothing of this, and they told me either architecture or civil engineering would be my best bet, but couldn't guarantee my internship or co-op work effort would deal with what I wanted. Also, given my age, not sure if I want to go for another BA unless a firm or organization wanted me to.

Feb 21, 19 7:26 pm

I would definitely consider where you want to go in your career before selecting a program.  You'd be going to a 3 year MArch program, not a BA, which would allow you to eventually be a licensed architect.  If that is not your goal, a preservation program would work just fine.  While I am not familiar with the Edgecombe program specifically, from the titles of the courses, it looks like an in-depth program.

Feb 21, 19 7:35 pm

The architecture program offered by the school in my area is five years, not three. Not sure if that's consistent among all schools. And the program is hard to get into, not in terms of grades, but in terms of how many they select. Apparently, there are a lot of wannabe architects. I was referring to BA mainly in terms of an engineering degree. I can't say my goal is to be a licensed architect. I'm probably too old for that. I came into the game late, after 15 years of family health issues that have recently come to an end. I have basically five years to get this second degree (even with my first, I'd likely have to go back to school anyway). I am caught between this Edgecombe program (a cheaper, two-year program) or a civil engineering degree. Which one I take, unfortunately, will come down to finances. Both sound appealing to me, but civil engineering has more of a design component. Either way, I simply want to be working directly with the structures I am responsible for, with a hope for preservation.


It looks like - and I could be wrong - that the Edgecombe program may prepare you to do hands-on type work. That is one category I did not mention. There is definitely a demand for those that can do hands-on preservation. If this is more in your wheelhouse, you could check out Historicorps ( ) which works with volunteers to restore historic places. I have never personally worked with them, but have had friends who have worked professionally for Historicorps, teaching hands-on skills.


It is a lot of hands-on work. They also told me that a degree in engineering along with hands-on work could make me an even more valuable asset with some in the historic profession. Architecture, at times, but not nearly as much of an asset. I think they may have been edging me to think about doing both, maybe cause I have a technical background. I have never heard of Historicorps, sounds a bit like Americorps for historic places. The website seems to really be good. I almost wish they had more projects going. I'll give this one a look. Thanks for the reply.


Here is another website for your consideration:


You can select certificate, undergraduate, or graduate programs. 'thatsthat' seems plugged in to the discipline. I would ask him for more opinion before you make a final decision.  

Feb 21, 19 8:19 pm

architecture sucks. engineering lets you use much fancier computer programs

Feb 21, 19 10:27 pm

Structural engineers have fuck all to do with preservation of anything. In fact I love them for how blunt they are. Waterproofing? Not our job. Fireproofing? We don't give a shit. We know our scope and understand our liability. The end. 

Preservation of architecture comes down to activism on front end, and restoration specialists in the back end. These are vastly different roles. Figure out what you actually want to do and understand that idea of structural engineering path is a massive misunderstanding of everything. 

Feb 21, 19 11:06 pm

So, what you're saying is engineers help build, and then leave the structure improperly exposed to the elements? So, who's job is it to fireproof? What about earthquakes? Is it architects or structural engineers, or both, who are supposed to ensure a structure can withstand an earthquake? I thought architects design, and structural engineers ensure the structure stands the test of time. And in the end, both work together to ensure the best laid plans.


I've been involved in activism, which certainly doesn't need a degree. Restoration specialists, I imagine, need structural engineers. In fact, I know they do. There is a preservation board I have been looking at that has a number, larger than I would have thought, of both architect and engineering jobs. Besides, even if I am not involved in historic preservation, I hope to be involved in preserving an existing structure. Everything is going to be historic at some point.


Do both. There is some overlap. Many schools offer concurrent degrees. If you're going to waste money getting a useless degree might as well get an engineering one as well.

Feb 22, 19 1:25 am

My next door neighbor is a preservation architect. She writes a lot of reports. 

Feb 22, 19 1:33 am

Yep, I was told that too, in person. Not exactly what I want to be doing. I'm an excellent writer, but still do not want to fall into that.

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