- Civil: makes the building site run water away from the building, runs utilities up to the building (within 5 feet), and works with the landscape architect to get the sidewalks and parking lots in place (sometimes).
- Structural: makes the building stand up and hold up under all the loads put on the building (live, dead, wind, snow, seismic, etc.).
- Mechanical: figures out how to get hot and cold air in the building and specifies the units and systems that put that air in the building.
- Plumbing: frequently the same as the mechanical engineer, runs water and gas pipes in the building, specifies plumbing fixtures, and runs waste lines out of the building and roof drain lines off of the roof.
- Electrical: specifies the lights and figures out the power systems in the building and powers all the equipment that the architect and some other engineers put in the building.
Friday, August 21, 2009
I talk a lot about the projects I work on, but it's rare that I discuss the other people in my neighborhood: the engineers. We call them consultants, but most of them are engineers. (I guess we call them consultants because they don't drive trains or wear striped bib overalls.) They occasionally make architects drink, but overall they're good people who have lives that are just as hard as the architects do.
Your main engineers on a project are:
One would imagine that engineers would be a stodgy, cranky bunch, always trying to shoot holes in the architect's divine vision and taking a metaphorical poo on every cool-looking aesthetic idea we have. My response is that engineers are like any other group of people--some winners and some losers, but the vast majority of them are just doing the best they can with what they have. Having spent the better part of nine years with them, however, I have the following stereotypes based on my experiences, and I'd love to hear from any engineers that read this blog for a reality check. (I'd also LOVE to know what makes engineers drink, especially about architects. I know we're a bunch of merlot-slurping pains in the butt.)
The few civil engineers I've worked with have been anything but that. I get my drawings late and/or incomplete, and it seems like they're completely misunderstanding the scope of the project or what they're actually required to do. They seem the least comfortable around other people, which is odd because they seem to do the least amount of calculus. Having gone to Georgia Tech and spent four years around nothing but engineers, it always seemed to me that an engineer's social skills and social comfort were in inverse proportion to their familiarity with and frequency of performing calculus. Also odd is that the women civil engineers I've worked with were the opposite--they kept in frequent contact with me, got me their stuff on time (or called when it was going to be late), and had their stuff generally right. I know I have a new or semi-new reader who is a civil engineer out in D.C--what am I missing, dawg? Have I just been burned by a couple of bad apples? Holla!
Structural engineers are the guys most responsible for the building not falling down, yet most of the ones I've met are the ones most likely to grab a keg if a building does indeed fall down. As the building shreds itself under the weight of gravity and its own mass, they're the ones recording it for YouTube and hitting each other on the arm and yelling "Ohhhman! You gotta watch this, dude, no seriously put the shots down, it's worth it!" I think they're super-friendly because you kinda have to do what they say--you move and fold around them, whereas most other fields have to move and bend around the architects. Because they know they run dis beeyotch, they're buying you liquor to ease the pain of knowing that you're just going to have a column in that hall, unless you redesign your clinic space. Sigh. Have another shot, dude, it's worth it.
Mechanical/plumbing engineers are hit and miss. One that I've worked with on and off for about six years is super-good at what he does and is pretty easy to get along with. He knows when to push back, and he knows when to back down, and I like that in an engineer in general. He and I heckle each other in a way that almost sounds like we went to high school together; he almost sounds like a structural engineer. However, I've met a few mechanical engineers that won't do their job and won't call me back. Dammit, I'm a Southern lady, and if you don't call me back, there will sweating-in-Valdosta-in-the-summer hell to pay.
Electrical engineers are generally pretty easygoing, and I tend to do very well with them for the opposite reason of the structural engineers. Most of what electrical is running through the building can fit in less that 1 1/2" of conduit, and it can bend around just about anything, so as long as you give them a 10' x 12' room near where the utilities come into the site, they're happy. They also tend to be most likely to work weekends, because their work depends on everyone else's work being done. They need to know where I'm putting the exam rooms and which walls are getting the computers and where the CT scanner is going and what mechanical unit is going on the roof and are we actually putting a chiller in the project and where are you locating the CRAC unit and so on. Furthermore, they tend to have the most esoteric senses of humor and are the most likely to send me hilarious construction-related and nerd-related email forwards or recipes. Electrical engineers like to cook, for whatever reason. I should mention that of the three women electrical engineers I've worked with, one was fantastically awesome, one acted like a shy mechanical engineer, and one seemed to have utter disdain for my very existence. Turns out though that she treated all women this way on a project, so I didn't feel so bad. (And she was my age, too! WTF?)
Here's the thing, though: I have a special place in my heart for engineers. To keep my job, I need one to three projects going on at once, but in order to keep their jobs, engineers need like eight to twelve. I might be exaggerating, but they need more projects than we do because their part of the project is smaller. I also know that they're all depending on me to have my shit together so they can do their jobs, and that just makes me feel sorry for them. You're depending on me? Well, good luck to ya, pal. Engineers know a lot about a couple of things, while architects know a couple of things about a lot. We know just enough to be dangerous, and that's why we hire engineers--they keep us from being too dangerous.
Engineers, I raise my crystal Tiffany wine goblet full of Riesling to you. You make me drink, but overall, it's in a good way.