Traditionally, engineering and architecture were not two different professions; the person in charge of design and construction projects assumed the roles of both engineer and architect. The etymology of the word “architect,” traced in ancient Greek, means the first builder, indicating both architectural and engineering expertise and responsibilities. Large-scale monuments in the history of architecture—pyramids, temples, domes, walls, bridges, and irrigation projects—all demonstrate the coexistence of architectural and engineering expertise in a single individual who excelled in both fields.
The eighteenth-century division between the architectural and engineering professions has created boot only different specialties, but different value systems. The architect is concerned with the architectural intentions of the design, usually emphasizing its artistic and human dimensions. The engineer, on the other hand, is concerned with the technical aspects of the design, emphasizing efficiency and simplicity. Different training and expertise, and the associated values, have generated a gap between the roles of the architect and engineer that often makes communication between them difficult, resulting in a lower quality of design.
The separation of roles was partly a result of the times. The need to address problems at the frontier of the existing technology (and the resulting rapid development of the technical sciences) combined with the ideology of the industrial revolution, let the engineering profession develop independently and with minimal artistic considerations. Similarly, designers became concerned more with art and paid less attention to technical issues, relying on the technical expertise of consultant engineers for the materialization of their designs.
However, lately, new trends and new technology have had an impact on the relation between the two professions:
- Artists, such as the constructivists and minimalists, as well as leading contemporary artists such as Serra, Christo, Oldenburg, Calder, and others have incorporated engineering aspects into modern art by using modern materials and engineering expressions.
- Technology in architecture has produced new materials and construction methods that allow architects to undertake more complicated designs, usually handled by engineers.
- The use of information technology (computers) has improved communication between the design participants and facilitates interaction from the very early stages of the design process to the development of construction documents.
These new trends bridge architecture and engineering, while acknowledging their different identities. The exchange of expressions and sharing of artistic considerations and technical know-how serve to further architecture and engineering’s common goal—a better built environment.