The world of engineering can be a bit complex, and that’s an understatement. For people who are new to the field or perhaps only need an engineer briefly, the abundance of terms and phrases used by engineers can be overwhelming. To assist those who are new, ORB has compiled a list of terms and definitions most commonly used in our field, structural engineering.


Architecture: the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings

Brace, Bracing: Diagonal members (or rigid membranes) providing rigidity to a structure.

Building services: Plumbing, electrical wiring, ventilation, gas supply and other support systems in a building.

Cantilever: Overhanging beam, roof or floor.

Civil Engineering: a broad term that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of physical and naturally built environment. It contains many sub-fields, including structural engineering.

Codes: Regulations, ordinances, or statutory requirements of a government relating to building construction and occupancy, generally adopted and administered for the protection of public health, safety and welfare.

Computer aided design (CAD): Commonly abbreviated as CAD, or CADD for computer-aided design and drafting. The type of computer program with which technical drawings are prepared. The market leader is AutoCAD but there are others.

Contractor: The designation reserved by law for a person or organization qualified and duly licensed to provide contracting services. The contractor is the individual or entity with whom the owner enters into a construction contract to provide the construction services for a specific project.

Dormer: A window projecting from the slope of a roof.

Dowel: (Concrete) A steel bar for transferring load across a joint. (Joinery) A timber molding with a circular cross section.

Fascia: In roof construction, a decorative board fixed to the ends of the rafters. Also the name board over a shop-front.

Load bearing: Designed to support a load in addition to its own weight.

Masonry: In general usage this describes work constructed of stone, but technically the term masonry also includes brickwork and blockwork.

Non-Structural Elements: Elements of a building that are not structural elements, but are attached to them, such as ceilings, mechanical and electrical equipment, and cladding.

Prestressed concrete: Concrete strengthened with steel wires which are stressed before the concrete is poured.

Professional Engineer: The designation of a registered engineer who provides engineering services. These services may include, but are not necessarily limited to, development of project requirements; creation and development of project design; preparation of drawings, specifications and bidding requirements; and providing professional services during the construction phase of the project.

Purlin: A horizontal structural member which supports a sloping roof covering, with or without rafters, and which carries the roof loads to the primary framing members.

Reinforced concrete: Concrete reinforced with steel bars to make a versatile structural material which is very strong in bending, shear, tension and compression, unlike plain concrete which is strong only in compression.

Shop Drawing: All drawings, diagrams, illustrations, schedules and other data or information that are specifically prepared or assembled by or for a contractor, and submitted by a contractor to an architect or engineer to illustrate in detail some portion of the work.

Structural Element: A single structural member such as a beam, column, wall, brace, truss, or foundation that, when combined with others, forms the structural system.

Structural Engineering: the field that deals with the structural design and structural analysis of nearly any type of structure, from tunnels to towers.

Truss: An arrangement of steel or timber components designed to span across a large distance to support a roof, floor or bridge.

Value Engineering: The process of suggesting alternative systems, materials, and methods to reduce the cost and/or enhance the value of the project.

Wind Load: The force on a structure arising from the impact of wind on it.


This is just a brief list of the industry terminology structural engineers commonly use. If you have a structural engineering question and cannot find your term above, give us a shout and we will be sure to help you out!


More to come soon.

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