The Relationship between Architects and Engineers

Since the beginning of the year, I have been thinking about business development ideas for my architecture office.

As all of us are getting out of the two-year pandemic, we have renewed hope/focus on things that will make our businesses thrive.

With the pandemic, many things stopped; the projects I was working on, marketing efforts, and the monthly phone calls with colleagues ranging from past clients, consultants, etc.

However, things started to change at the beginning of this year… began receiving calls from past clients, contractors and consultants I worked with.  

Recently I had a call with a structural engineer I worked within the past. We talked about our businesses and how he plans to start talking to ALL his contacts. While talking about business developments, and marketing efforts, I commented that he’s the only engineer I keep in touch with.  

First, he corrected me that it was him who was doing the contact…and then he said something that stayed with me for the remaining of the day.

 “I don’t understand why engineers do not network with architects. We work so closely together…but we don’t ever network”.

Why indeed?

No networking opportunities

Since I started my architecture practice back in 2009, I have been to different networking events: business group leaders, professional conferences like the Green roof, developer group, and Urban Land Institute

There are many opportunities for industry-related people to learn about each other and find ways to do business together.

I learned about these events through people I met and through some random marketing emails I received over the years.

I’ve never attended engineers’ events with the abundant networking options (and constant random email reminders). Neither the invitations from engineers nor even the random marketing emails received about the engineers’ events.  

It is strange…

As my structural engineer comments, we work so closely together, yet not much of connections!

When we work on a project together, constant coordination requires frequent meetings.  

From the initial “kick-off” project meeting, understanding the requirements and potential difficulties (from different disciplines) is central to a successful project competition.  

Architecture design ideas and translating/modifying those ideas with various engineering disciplines – structural, Mechanical, Civil etc. – are the crux of the building design to construction.   

We need to coordinate changes/updates together to be on the same page throughout the project towards completion.

Even with this absolute necessity built in our professions and work, oddly, our togetherness does not extend beyond project completions.  

Recently, I received a random marketing email from an engineer to submit for a potential project together through a process, RFP (Request for Proposal). It is a well-known business development strategy in our architecture and engineering industries.

It is a way to submit our qualifications together to increase the chance to get the project. Although it is a well-known effort in our industries, the process is time-consuming; and competitive.

With the “competitive” nature of the process, I generally do not consider them significant business development opportunities. I suspect my sentiment is shared by many architecture colleagues…

If not, I have a bigger problem…

For successful RFP submissions to happen, it requires a holistic approach to the submission documents. It is not only individual companies’ experience/expertise but “overall” qualifications with everyone involved in the process.  

Being approached by an engineer I did not know did not sound like a sound business strategy or good use of time.  

Eventually, I decided not to pursue the RFP in question.

Left brain vs Right brain arguments and expectations

It is a well-known comparison between architects and engineers. 

Engineers being the precise /mathematical /systematic person, and then architects’ artistic/creative/ theoretical tendencies. 

Even though I can imagine some people having both qualities, a blank description corresponds to my case and many architecture school classmates.   

Undoubtedly enjoying the artistic/creative art classes sparked my interest in the architecture profession, and suffering through required Structure (LEFT brain all the time) classes during my architecture education would be the perfect example of me being squarely on the right-side brain discussion.

Although I am partially wholly drawn to the importance of the right side and its importance for creating beautiful buildings, my left side (proportionally smaller in scale) brain tells me something else…

Past successful projects require meeting specific project management guidelines: coherent work schedules, project objectives, roles of each person involved etc. 

However, the most critical element in having a successful project competition is everyone’s willingness to hear other people’s thoughts/ opinions…and sometimes criticisms.  

To think/consider “other” ideas has continuously strengthened the projects I worked on, even if the processes had been bumpy along the way.  

The US vs Them mentality

The idea of architects vs engineers started back in my school years. 

The separation of Architecture and engineering was a long-held tradition at my alma mater, Cornell University.

Not only the complete separation of two disciplines in curriculum, physical building locations, etc., but there’s also a century-old tradition at the school happening every spring highlighting the divide: Dragon Day.  

It is the day for architecture students to showcase the gigantic handmade dragon and carry it around the campus. And also, the engineering students throw things at the dragon to point out the engineering flaws.

Even though I do not know much about other schools and their traditions, I have a suspicion that some similar sentiments are brewing in architecture and engineering schools: us vs them.

This separation continues in our profession. 

They can be through passing comments like “engineers do not know how to design” or “architects only care about looks.” 

My professional self believes that these general comments do not speak for all architects and engineers.  

However, my non-professional self is an entirely different story…:)

Final Thought

Separation in our profession has to do with something we all want to avoid: our ignorance.

Instead of recognizing our lack of knowledge in other professions, it feels more comfortable to say somehow other work is less superior to ours.  

I have consistently recognized my weakness in thinking and working (even if I do not want to admit it).

Having a much bigger right brain in me, I’ve been well compensated by my left brainy engineer colleagues over the years.

While trying to wreck my brain (pun intended) on business development ideas for a post-pandemic time, I wonder what my left brainy colleagues are thinking about.  

Or better yet, I should ask them by suggesting our networking meetings to pick their brains…

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in Life Outside of Design Studio and has been updated for accuracy and completeness.

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