Left & Right Brain: Understanding the Roles of Architects & Engineers

Left & Right Brain: Understanding the Roles of Architects & Engineers

Posted on September 21, 2021 by Ceco Building Systems

The success of any construction project is inherently dependent on the success of the collaboration that went into it. Dozens of different teams, specialists and tradesmen are involved, and it can sometimes be unclear who does what, who is responsible for what, and who should be involved at which point. Today, we’re going to unfold these complicated connections, focusing on the roles of architect and engineer. We’ll also investigate cutting-edge ways architects, engineers and every project stakeholder can collaborate more productively – making projects go smoother, maximizing profit margins and minimizing schedule changes. 


Who Does What? 

If you’re familiar with the idea of left-brain and right-brain dominant people, you already have a good grasp on the fundamental difference between the characteristics and responsibilities of architects vs. engineers. The left brain is associated with heavy thinking, analytical processing, math, logic, and science. Right brain is more feeling, creative, artistic, and free flowing. Of course, no one is entirely one or the other, and exceptions exist, but architects tend to be more right-brained while engineers are more likely to be left-brained. While the responsibilities of engineers and architects often overlap, both are accountable to you as their client. 


The Architect’s Right-Brain Vision 

An architect begins by meeting with the client, understanding their needs, goals, and ideas. The architect then grows this into a grand, artistic vision elegantly addressing the client’s needs while integrating form and function in a surprising, impressive, memorable way. This vision is typically expressed in the form of a full set of architectural drawings comprised of floor plans, roof plans, elevations, sections, and perspective drawings.  

This, of course, requires a good amount of left brain work as well. He or she must design within local codes and municipal limits, be aware of safety regulations and remain current on both technical innovations and city laws. To facilitate the collaborative design process, architects also need polished people skills, as well as like written and oral communication abilities.  

So, the architect has dreamed up a stunning, and fully functional building. Just because it looks great on paper, though, doesn’t mean it’s constructible. That’s where engineers come in. Ideally, architects provide the following for an engineer’s review: 

  • blueprints 
  • floor-to-floor heights 
  • slab edge locations 
  • cavity depths  
  • ceiling interstitial spaces 
  • parapet locations and heights 
  • unique architectural features 
  • design areas subject to changes 


The Engineer’s Left-Brain Reality 

Engineers tend to be the left-brained type, using math, science, logic, and visualization to fully understand the constructability and feasibility of an architect’s design. Using the architect’s preliminary drawings and the information listed above, an engineer designs a structure to support the building’s live, dead, and environmental loads.  

The engineer ensures the design is safe, meeting all appropriate building codes, and specifies not only the structural materials and members, but details such as electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing systems. On larger projects, each of these might have their own engineer assigned. 

Just as the architect provided information to the engineer, the engineer in turn provides the architect with crucial information: 

  • structural implications of proposed openings and floor spans  
  • size and locations of columns 
  • locations and types of expansion joints 
  • locations of shear walls or other seismic resistance mechanisms 
  • possibilities for improving efficiency  


Stop, Collaborate & Listen 

While construction has traditionally been a linear process, where plans move from a client meeting and resulting architect vision to an engineer review and construction itself, technology is making it possible to streamline this in unprecedented ways. Working on paper, it can be hard to visualize all the places where a pipe might accidentally intersect a structural member or how columns might block the flow of hallway traffic. These coordination issues or “clashes” as they’re known, are now easier to predict than ever. The old way meant changes or unforeseen problems resulting in major problems in a project’s budget and timeline. But with today’s technology and software, it’s possible for all stakeholders to easily and fully visualize a project before breaking ground. 


Whole Brain 

The earlier everyone can get together and contribute their expertise to the design and plan, the smoother the project will go, because it allows for better coordination, improved communication, and quicker decision-making. Each discipline brings its own perspective and priorities – and those must be reflected in the finished building.  


The myPortal Advantage 

One of the advantages CECO brings to the table is proprietary estimating software, myPortal. In the initial stages of building conceptualization, architects can utilize the platform to create design and pricing options for presentation and discussion. With easy access to a wide variety of designs that incorporate all the necessary parameters and accessories, the entire team can collaborate and move forward with confidence knowing the layout they select is designed with maximum efficiency built into the design. 


Which do I need? 

Small, simple projects may not require the involvement of an architect or engineer. It can be tricky to know when you simply need the signoff of an engineer, when an engineer needs to be fully involved, or when an architect should be called in. Many of the rules, laws and codes differ from state to state and municipality to municipality, but the primary considerations are the classification of the building, its height and area. Check with your local permit office to be sure, but this gives a general idea of what is required: 

Requires Engineer Stamp 

  • Single-story gas stations 
  • mechanic shops  
  • car washes  
  • small quick-service restaurants  
  • small single-story retail and office space 

Requires Architect Stamp 

  • buildings over one story tall 
  • large or multi-story retail space 
  • large restaurants and offices 
  • big box stores, malls, etc. 


Choose Wisely 

Regardless of the size, scope and complexity of the project, the most important decision is choosing the right partner for you. Don’t let the sole decision-making factor be price. Your partner should be infinitely curious about your needs, goals, and concerns. They should be as enthusiastic and driven to realize your vision as you are. And they should be able to design and build within your budget.  

If you have questions or concerns about finding the right architect, engineer, or firm, your CECO representative would be happy to help. We have decades of experience working alongside architects and engineers with a wide spectrum of expertise and can help identify those who are most likely to best meet your unique needs.