Skip to main content

Structural Engineering 101: The Basics

December 20, 2022

Structural engineering is a field that focuses on the design and analysis of the structural elements of a building or other structure. These elements include the foundations, beams, columns, and other components that support the weight of the structure and ensure its stability. In this blog post, we'll provide an overview of the basics of structural engineering and the role it plays in construction.

Types of Structural Systems

There are several types of structural systems that are commonly used in construction. These include:

  • Beam and column: This type of system consists of beams that span horizontally between columns, which provide vertical support. This is a common system used in many types of buildings, including office buildings and homes.
  • Truss: A truss is a type of structure that consists of interconnected triangles. Trusses are used in a variety of applications, including bridges and roof structures, due to their ability to span large distances while using relatively little material.
  • Frame: A frame structure consists of a series of interconnected beams and columns that form a skeleton-like structure. Frame structures are commonly used in high-rise buildings due to their ability to support the weight of the building at high elevations.

Loads and Stresses on a Structure

Structural engineers must consider the loads and stresses that a structure will be subjected to during its lifespan. These can include:

  • Dead loads: Dead loads are the weight of the structure itself and any permanent fixtures or materials, such as concrete floors or steel beams.
  • Live loads: Live loads are the temporary loads that a structure will be subjected to, such as the weight of people or furniture.
  • Environmental loads: Environmental loads include the effects of wind, snow, and earthquakes on a structure.

Designing and Analyzing Structural Elements

Structural engineers use a variety of tools and techniques to design and analyze the structural elements of a building or other structure. These can include:

  • Computer modeling: Computer modeling allows engineers to simulate the behavior of a structure under different loads and conditions. This can help identify potential issues and inform design decisions.
  • Statics: Statics is a branch of engineering that deals with the analysis of forces on stationary objects. Structural engineers use statics to determine the loads and forces acting on a structure and design the structural elements accordingly.
  • Material testing: Material testing involves testing the physical properties of materials, such as their strength and stiffness, to determine their suitability for use in construction.

Safety Considerations in Structural Engineering

Ensuring the safety of a structure is a top priority in structural engineering. This includes designing the structure to withstand the loads and stresses it will be subjected to, as well as considering the safety of everyone using the building.

Repair and Retrofitting of Existing Structures

Structural engineers also play a role in the repair and retrofitting of existing structures. This can include assessing the condition of a structure and identifying any issues that need to be addressed, such as structural damage or the need for updates to meet current building codes and regulations. Retrofitting can involve adding additional structural elements or reinforcing existing ones to increase the strength and stability of the structure.


Structural engineering plays a crucial role in the design and construction of buildings and other structures. From determining the loads and stresses on a structure to designing and analyzing the structural elements, structural engineers ensure that buildings are safe and structurally sound. Whether working on new construction projects or retrofitting existing structures, structural engineers play a vital role in the built environment.