While the title electrical engineer covers a broad spectrum of roles and responsibilities, there is an easy-to-guess common denominator: electricity. A profession that began not surprisingly in the late nineteenth century (the same time electricity itself was harnessed in Edison’s light bulb), the numerous branches of electrical engineering are as diverse as electricity’s uses.
In broad terms, an electrical engineer is capable of designing, developing, testing, and supervising electrical equipment. From GPS systems to motors and power generation, electrical engineers are always in demand because of their specialized, and vital, skill sets. One of the most practical careers in the world of STEM positions, electrical engineers really do have a hand in everything that uses, creates, or harnesses electricity.
To look specifically at electrical building system engineering, one begins to realize just how critical this role is as it’s truly an essential part to any architect’s design. The most visible design aspect – lighting and controls – is definitely important to the overall building appeal, but there’s more to an electrical engineer’s role when it comes to all of the building’s systems. From general receptacles, fire alarm systems, power for mechanical/plumbing/telecommunication equipment, site lighting, to entire power distribution, electrical engineers ensure that every part of a building functions properly, acting like the blood in the veins of a building. Electrical engineers are needed at every stage of a design project, from conception and drafting to building and final inspections.
And, as more and more older buildings are being renovated and restored, the role of electrical engineers is becoming even more critical. To bring outdated buildings back to life, they need to be able to function in today’s world – and electricity plays a huge role in that.
In order to succeed as an electrical engineer in the realm of architecture, several critical skills are necessary, including physics, electronic theory, mathematics, and a sound understanding of materials. To keep up with the changing landscape of design, many electrical engineers are turning to building information modeling (BIM) systems to better demonstrate concepts, including where devices will be laid out and how their power flows together. These simulations can be as small as a single circuit or as expansive as the power needed for an entire skyscraper – even an entire city. Because of the method of design, electrical engineers using BIM programs can easily modify plans and projections on the fly, making them even more useful to have on project sites and in client meetings.
When architects truly care about the result of a project, as well as the budget and timeline, electrical engineers become an integral part of the team. Able to take care of many of the technical details, electrical engineers ensure that projects go smoothly. This peace of mind allows clients to rest in knowing that even the smallest details are covered, no matter how individually tailored their project turns out to be. From overall functionality to the cost of maintenance, electrical engineers keep architects on track, ensuring there aren’t any unfortunate surprises as the design and build progresses.
Highly specialized, there is no replacing an electrical engineer on a design project, no matter the scope or size. Without a savvy electrical engineer, the overall architectural sense of a project is skewed, which is why it’s wise to bring in an engineer right from the beginning, not just at the end. When leveraged at every stage of a project, the absolute best outcomes are possible – both for the client and the overall function of the building.