Civil engineering is one of the oldest professions. As far back as the Great Pyramids at Giza, brilliant engineering minds have been thinking up ways to design and build mind-blowing structures. Today, the only thing that has changed is what they create. With new, lighter and stronger materials to work with, and greater challenges to be met, there is no limit to what civil engineers can achieve. They build towers, bridges, roads, railways and tunnels; airports and mines; dams, ports and harbours; water supplies and sewerage schemes; and irrigation systems and flood mitigation works. In fact, any infrastructure that’s required to run our modern society needs the input of civil engineers along the way.

The profession is very broad, with opportunities for a specialised career, including:

  • geotechnical engineers
  • structural engineers
  • water engineers
  • civil engineers with architecture
What geotechnical engineers do

Geotechnical engineers deal with many types of infrastructure – tunnels, bridges, dams, buildings, roads, railways, ports and landfills – that are built on or in the ground.

Geotechnical engineers have to produce designs for infrastructure that are safe and serve the required purpose – during the construction phase, as well as a long time into the future.

Geotechnical engineers gather the information needed for their designs and analyses from site investigations which can be in urban areas or remote areas, depending on where the infrastructure has to be built.

Geotechnical engineers also study landslides and earthquakes, and ways of preventing future landslides from occurring and ways of making infrastructure earthquake resistant.

Geotechnical engineers tend to be practical people who are good at using mathematics and mechanics and who enjoy working outside, as well as in an office environment.

What structural engineers do

Structural engineers use their creativity and scientific training to develop and maintain new and existing structures and incorporate advanced materials.
Structural engineers:

  • develop structural solutions to resist loads and other forces
  • devise ways to provide safe load paths for these forces.

Designing a society’s infrastructure presents enormous challenges, creatively and intellectually. This is a fascinating career for those interested in building, mechanics and mathematics and who would enjoy working in teams with other engineering disciplines, architects, contractors and builders.

What water engineers do

To safeguard South Africa’s water future, water engineers need a long-term and holistic perspective of water from catchment to ocean and innovative approaches to all aspects of the water cycle.

Water levels

Water engineers design and operate dams to ensure that we have enough water during dry times and that water is allocated fairly and efficiently to all users. This includes designing efficient irrigation schemes to try to minimise the loss of water through evaporation, which is a big problem in a dry continent like Australia.

Flood prediction

Water engineers model the rainfall and flow in catchments. They work with local communities, governments and emergency services to predict flooding and ensure that development in floodplains is safe and appropriate. Water engineers also design stormwater systems that can prevent flooding. Exciting developments in this area include Water Sensitive Urban Design which complements traditional stormwater pipes with natural water features, such as wetlands.


Groundwater is an important resource for much of Australia, but its location makes it difficult to study. Water engineers must come up with innovative ways to track and quantify the water in this precious resource.

Coastal engineering

This type of water engineering studies the behaviour of the ocean and how it interacts with the coastal land, including understanding coastal erosion and designing ways to protect beaches and properties. Coastal engineering includes designing beach nourishment programs and breakwalls that ensure safe navigation of boats into harbours and estuaries. Estuaries, where rivers meet the ocean, are a fascinating area to study as the mixing of saltwater and freshwater leads to unique habitats for vegetation and wildlife. Water engineers try to understand how estuaries behave and can help to restore them when development has caused them to become out of balance.

Water quality

Water quality requirements depend on the intended use of the water – water engineers design and operate water treatment plants, waste water treatment and water recycling schemes. Water quality of natural systems is also a key concern and water engineers can consider the impact of human activities and natural events, such as bushfires, on aquatic ecosystems.

What civil engineers with architecture do

Civil engineers who also have studied some elements of architecture are well qualified to collaborate with architects, artists and other professionals in multidisciplinary, built environment teams to produce integrated and sustainable designs. The ability to communicate across the disciplines of civil engineering and architecture is essential to the success of these projects.

Civil engineers with Civil with architecture degrees could work in Australia or overseas with:

  • specialist structural engineering consultants,
  • construction and contracting companies,
  • federal, state and local government organisations,
  • airport and harbour authorities,
  • project developers, or
  • financial and management consultants in large corporations.

Civil engineers with Civil with architecture degrees not only work with the technical or engineering aspects of building design, they are also heavily involved in coordination and discussions with architects, builders and contractors. This can be complex work which requires coordination with many different parties to consider spatial requirements, costs, safety, workability and structural adequacy.

They work with the ‘big picture’ of the design in an exciting, fast-paced and dynamic industry.

Engineers We Work With

Company: Gordon Flemming & Associates

Contact: Gordon Flemming

Tel: 031 764 0971

Address: 2A Quentin Smythe Rd, Ronaldskloof Ext, Kloof, 3610

Category: Engineer

Company: RDA Consulting Engineers

Contact: Dean Naidoo

Tel: 032 586 0680

Address: 14B Silverstone Way, 5 Douglas Crowe Drive, Ballito business park.

Category: Engineer