Engineering vs Architecture - All you need to know

Are you one of those people who are always curious about both creative and technical sides of a problem? Engineering vs Architecture

If you’ve ever found yourself at a crossroads in deciding between pursuing something that is commonly thought to be more ‘practical’ versus something that seems to be more ‘creative’, you may have come across the eternal conundrum that is deciding between pursuing the fields of Architecture or Engineering.

Engineering vs Architecture Illustration
Engineering vs architecture Sketch

Created by: Anuj Kale / leewardists

To answer these questions, we’ll take a deeper look at these two well-established fields which sometimes overlap and attract a wide variety of talent with a diversity of mindsets, skill-sets and prospects.

Whether you’re still confused or at wits’ ends in choosing an architecture or engineering undergraduate degree, this guide will hopefully enlighten you on your journey towards pursuing something that is meaningful to you.

Engineering vs Architecture  – Which is Better?

Egineering Industry Explained in Diagrams

Architects and engineers work cohesively together with the client and other professions such as project managers, contractors, builders and quantity surveyors in a broad ecosystem to get the job done efficiently.

Of course, we want to cut to the chase and break down the differences in terms of:

  • Undergraduate and post-graduate university academic curricula
  • Industry culture and environment
  • Skill-sets alignment
  • Salary and prospects

We’ll be comparing specifically Civil Engineering with Architecture, as Civil Engineering deals with buildings and is the most closely related to Architecture.

School Curriculum

Engineering vs Architecture Schools

A typical architecture studio environment / Photo Credit: Leo Shieh via MITOPENCOURSEWARE

The general architecture education differs a great deal from engineering courses (and most of other university courses) in the form of what are usually called ‘design studios’.

A key bulk of the architecture curricula focuses on continual assessment of a ‘design’ project, usually carried out over the entire course of semester or even stretching out to a year for some. These projects are seen as the culmination of your undergraduate years and as part of the overall portfolio of works done as a student.

Accompanying this main project would be other types of coursework that are more niche but still contribute to the design studio’s main project.

The breadth of coursework covered can include:

  • Sociohistorical aspect of architecture
  • Structural principles behind buildings e.g. transferring of forces
  • Structural technologies of buildings e.g looking at how details can be designed
  • Environmental science of buildings e.g passive cooling strategies, HVAC systems
  • Learning about architectural practice and profession itself (building codes, guidelines, agencies, submissions, project management)
Architecture School

A look inside Harvard’s esteemed Graduate School of Design studios /  

Photo Credit: Harvard GSD

A good architecture school would generally offer a multitude of different topics that cover social, historical, technical, environmental and professional aspects of architecture.

These coursework modules are generally intended to offer insights and inspiration into the main coursework to create a holistic studio design project.

Engineering vs Architecture Office

Photo Credit: Leon via Unsplash

Design studios are usually structured to be an intimate classroom setting with a low student-to-tutor ratio where students can bounce their design ideas off each other and be expected to present their work frequently to the tutor and the rest of the class.

The focus on small groups is to foster a constant exchange of sharing and communication of interesting and provocative design ideas. Often, the mode of sharing ideas include use of various visualization tools like model-making, thus the environment revolves around the use of handcrafted tools.

Most schools will expect students to be exposed to hand modelling tools
as well as other methods of 3D design visualization like using laser cutting and engraving machines, 3D printers, CNC millers.

A look inside Harvard’s esteemed Graduate School of Design studios

How would this architecture student 's life differ from a civil engineering student's life, you might ask.

For engineering majors, the typical classroom setting might vary to big lecture halls packed with students and to small, focused tutorial-sized groups, with the additional component of attending structural-testing laboratory sessions rather than studio sessions.

A lot of focus is placed on learning in larger classroom settings and developing the rigorous mathematical skills required to solve difficult structural problems.

Engineering vs architecture Drawings

Photo Credit: ThisisEngineering RAEng via Unsplash

Topics covered generally include:

  • Foundation Sciences (mathematics, physics, computer applications)
  • Calculations of structural and geo-technical mechanics and materials (strength tests for earth materials and different types of structural infrastructure)
  • Construction project management and the profession itself

Summary of Architecture vs Engineering Degree (School Curricula)

Industry Environment

When it comes to the real world of construction, things start to get complex.


Depending on the country regulations and contractual terms of each building project, different phases of construction would occur first, requiring the input of different actors like the engineer, architect, contractor (and their sub-contractors and suppliers if need be), government approval agencies, quantity surveyors and the client or developer.

Engineer at work

Photo Credit: Ahsanization via Unsplash

A key difference would definitely be the frequency of attending construction site visits.

Usually, an architect would be actively involved in the earlier parts of the project such as the pre-design, schematic design, drawing documentation. They produce the required drawings that are cross-checked and approved by building consultants, which are then handed over to the builders on site.

Builders would carry out the work accordingly but would be held accountable by key personnel, which are engineer-trained, to take proper measures to build safe and high-quality buildings. In that sense, an architect has to make less visits to the construction site than the engineer-in-charge.

When it comes to salary, architects and engineers both are remunerated differently in different regions. While in the US, an architect’s pay outweighs that of an engineer, it may vary in your respective region.

It is worth noting that an architect’s elevated pay (and sometimes the perceived prestige) is often a result of the entry requirement of having a Master’s degree instead of a Bachelor’s, which sets architects back by at least two or even more years before being certified and entering the workforce.
Always check with the regional requirements of your area!

Summary of Architecture vs Engineering Degree (Industry Differences)


Engineering vs Architecture Skills

Have you seen a final-year thesis of an architecture student as compared to an engineering student?

Usually, an architecture thesis places emphasis on imagination, invention and speculation of future systems of infrastructure, while engineering theses are explorations of very grounded science-based testing and research.

As such, products of the architecture process can vary greatly, from crazy explorations of parametric facades to computational urban analyses to modular housing units. All of them have their own merits and is what makes the architecture environment interesting, but also more open-ended compared to engineering, hence the horror stories of late-nights of perfecting your model.

If you are someone who enjoys the tedious (but possibly rewarding) iterative process of exploration and endless metacognition (or post-rationalising), then architecture may be for you!

If you are someone who enjoys a more mathematical and systems-approach to design, with a need for closure (read: undisrupted sleep) then engineering may be for you!

Engineering vs Architecture Software

Summary of Architecture vs Engineering Degree (Skill Differences)

There is No Better Degree

Photo Credit: Evgeniy Surzhan via Unsplash

Ultimately, when making a life-changing decision such as deciding between an engineering and architecture degree, it takes a lot of introspection about what your interests and values are, rather than the perceived difficulty of the degree.

Both degrees and professions practice creativity in different ways, and the ‘best’ and ‘easiest’ degree for you would be one would be most aligned with your interests and inclinations as it will be what pulls you through on difficult days.

If you choose to go into architecture, here's a very good guide on architecture education today. Check it out.

About the Author

Dušan Cvetković is a professional architect from Serbia with international experience in the industry. Collaborated with numerous clients all around the world in the field of architecture design, 3D modeling and software education. He's been teaching Rhinoceros3D to thousands of architects through How to Rhino community and various social media channels.