Introduction to Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is a professional engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment, including works like roads, bridges, canals, dams, and buildings. Civil engineering is the second-oldest engineering discipline after military engineering, and it is defined to distinguish non-military engineering from military engineering. It is traditionally broken into several sub-disciplines including environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, geophysics, geodesy, control engineering, structural engineering, transportation engineering, earth science, atmospheric sciences, forensic engineering, municipal or urban engineering, water resources engineering, materials engineering, offshore engineering, quantity surveying, coastal engineering, surveying, and construction engineering. Civil engineering takes place in the public sector from municipal through to national governments, and in the private sector from individual homeowners through to international companies.


History of Civil Engineering:


Until modern times there was no clear distinction between civil engineering and architecture, and the term engineer and architect were mainly geographical variations referring to the same occupation, and often used interchangeably. The construction of pyramids in Egypt (circa 2700–2500 BC) were some of the first instances of large structure constructions. Other ancient historic civil engineering constructions include the Qanat water management system (the oldest is older than 3000 years and longer than 71 km,) the Parthenon by Iktinos in Ancient Greece (447–438 BC), the Appian Way by Roman engineers (c. 312 BC), the Great Wall of China by General Meng T’ien under orders from Ch’in Emperor Shih Huang Ti (c. 220 BC) and the stupas constructed in ancient Sri Lanka like the Jetavanaramaya and the extensive irrigation works in Anuradhapura. The Romans developed civil structures throughout their empire, including especially aqueducts, insulae, harbors, bridges, dams and roads.

In the 18th century, the term civil engineering was coined to incorporate all things civilian as opposed to military engineering. The first self-proclaimed civil engineer was John Smeaton, who constructed the Eddystone Lighthouse.

Civil engineering is the application of physical and scientific principles for solving the problems of society, and its history is intricately linked to advances in understanding of physics and mathematics throughout history. Because civil engineering is a wide ranging profession, including several separate specialized sub-disciplines, its history is linked to knowledge of structures, materials science, geography, geology, soils, hydrology, environment, mechanics and other fields.

Throughout ancient and medieval history most architectural design and construction was carried out by artisans, such as stonemasons and carpenters, rising to the role of master builder. Knowledge was retained in guilds and seldom supplanted by advances. Structures, roads and infrastructure that existed were repetitive, and increases in scale were incremental.

One of the earliest examples of a scientific approach to physical and mathematical problems applicable to civil engineering is the work of Archimedes in the 3rd century BC, including Archimedes Principle, which underpins our understanding of buoyancy, and practical solutions such as Archimedes’ screw. Brahmagupta, an Indian mathematician, used arithmetic in the 7th century AD, based on Hindu-Arabic numerals, for excavation (volume) computations.

 A Roman aqueduct [built circa 19 BC] near Pont du Gard, France.



  • Material Science & Engineering: Materials engineering also consists of protection and prevention like paints and finishes. Alloying is another aspect of materials engineering, combining two types of metals to produce a more useful metal. It incorporates elements of applied physics and chemistry. With significant media attention focused on nanoscience and nanotechnology in recent years, materials science has been propelled to the forefront at many universities. It is also an important part of forensic engineering and failure analysis. Materials science also deals with fundamental properties and characteristics of materials.


  • Construction Engineering: Construction engineering involves planning and execution of the designs from transportation, site development, hydraulic, environmental, structural and geotechnical engineers. As construction firms tend to have higher business risk than other types of civil engineering firms, many construction engineers tend to take on a role that is more business-like in nature: drafting and reviewing contracts, evaluating logistical operations, and closely monitoring prices of necessary supplies.


  • Earthquake Engineering: Earthquake engineering covers ability of various structures to withstand hazardous earthquake exposures at the sites of their particular location. Earthquake engineering is a sub discipline of the broader category of Structural engineering. The main objectives of earthquake engineering are to understand interaction of structures with the shaky ground; foresee the consequences of possible earthquakes; and design, construct and maintain structures to perform at earthquake exposure up to the expectations and in compliance with building codes.


  • Environmental Engineering: Environmental engineering deals with the treatment of chemical, biological, and/or thermal waste, the purification of water and air, and the remediation of contaminated sites, due to prior waste disposal or accidental contamination. Among the topics covered by environmental engineering are pollutant transport, water purification, waste water treatment, air pollution, solid waste treatment and hazardous waste management. Environmental engineers can be involved with pollution reduction, green engineering, and industrial ecology. Environmental engineering also deals with the gathering of information on the environmental consequences of proposed actions and the assessment of effects of proposed actions for the purpose of assisting society and policy makers in the decision making process.


  • Geotechnical Engineering: Geotechnical engineering is an area of civil engineering concerned with the rock and soil that support civil engineering systems. Knowledge from the fields of geology, material science and testing, mechanics, and hydraulics are applied by geotechnical engineers to safely and economically design foundations, retaining walls, and similar structures. Environmental concerns in relation to groundwater and waste disposal have spawned a new area of study called geoenvironmental engineering where biology and chemistry are important.


  • Water Resource Engineering: Water resources engineering is concerned with the collection and management of water (as a natural resource). As a discipline it therefore combines hydrology, environmental science, meteorology, geology, conservation, and resource management. This area of civil engineering relates to the prediction and management of both the quality and the quantity of water in both underground (aquifers) and above ground (lakes, rivers, and streams) resources. Water resource engineers analyze and model very small to very large areas of the earth to predict the amount and content of water as it flows into, through, or out of a facility. Although the actual design of the facility may be left to other engineers.


  • Structural Engineering: Structural engineering is concerned with the structural design and structural analysis of buildings, bridges, towers, flyovers (overpasses), tunnels, off shore structures like oil and gas fields in the sea, aero structure and other structures. This involves identifying the loads which act upon a structure and the forces and stresses which arise within that structure due to those loads, and then designing the structure to successfully support and resist those loads. The loads can be self-weight of the structures, other dead load, live loads, moving (wheel) load, wind load, earthquake load, load from temperature change etc. The structural engineer must design structures to be safe for their users and to successfully fulfil the function they are designed for (to be serviceable). Due to the nature of some loading conditions, sub-disciplines within structural engineering have emerged, including wind engineering and earthquake engineering.


  • Surveying: Surveying is the process by which a surveyor measures certain dimensions that generally occur on the surface of the Earth. Surveying equipment, such as levels and theodolites, are used for accurate measurement of angular deviation, horizontal, vertical and slope distances. With computerisation, electronic distance measurement (EDM), total stations, GPS surveying and laser scanning have supplemented (and to a large extent supplanted) the traditional optical instruments. This information is crucial to convert the data into a graphical representation of the Earth’s surface, in the form of a map. This information is then used by civil engineers, contractors and even realtors to design from, build on, and trade, respectively. Elements of a building or structure must be correctly sized and positioned in relation to each other and to site boundaries and adjacent structures. Although surveying is a distinct profession with separate qualifications and licensing arrangements, civil engineers are trained in the basics of surveying and mapping, as well as geographic information systems. Surveyors may also lay out the routes of railways, tramway tracks, highways, roads, pipelines and streets as well as position other infrastructures, such as harbours, before construction.


  • Transportation Engineering: Transportation engineering is concerned with moving people and goods efficiently, safely, and in a manner conducive to a vibrant community. This involves specifying, designing, constructing, and maintaining transportation infrastructure which includes streets, canals, highways, rail systems, airports, ports, and mass transit. It includes areas such as transportation design, transportation planning, traffic engineering, and some aspects of urban engineering, queuing theory, pavement engineering, Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), and infrastructure management.


  • Municipal and Urban Engineering: Municipal engineering is concerned with municipal infrastructure. This involves specifying, designing, constructing, and maintaining streets, sidewalks, water supply networks, sewers, street lighting, municipal solid waste management and disposal, storage depots for various bulk materials used for maintenance and public works (salt, sand, etc.), public parks and bicycle paths. In the case of underground utility networks, it may also include the civil portion (conduits and access chambers) of the local distribution networks of electrical and telecommunications services. It can also include the optimizing of waste collection and bus service networks. Some of these disciplines overlap with other civil engineering specialties, however municipal engineering focuses on the coordination of these infrastructure networks and services, as they are often built simultaneously, and managed by the same municipal authority.


  • Forensic Engineering: Forensic engineering is the investigation of materials, products, structures or components that fail or do not operate or function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property. The consequences of failure are dealt with by the law of product liability. The field also deals with retracing processes and procedures leading to accidents in operation of vehicles or machinery. The subject is applied most commonly in civil law cases, although it may be of use in criminal law cases. Generally the purpose of a Forensic engineering investigation is to locate cause or causes of failure with a view to improve performance or life of a component, or to assist a court in determining the facts of an accident. It can also involve investigation of intellectual property claims, especially patents.


  • Control Engineering: Control engineering (or control systems engineering) is the branch of civil engineering discipline that applies control theory to design systems with desired behaviours. The practice uses sensors to measure the output performance of the device being controlled (often a vehicle) and those measurements can be used to give feedback to the input actuators that can make corrections toward desired performance. When a device is designed to perform without the need of human inputs for correction it is called automatic control (such as cruise control for regulating a car’s speed). Multidisciplinary in nature, control systems engineering activities focus on implementation of control systems mainly derived by mathematical modelling of systems of a diverse range.


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