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Out of all the different types of engineering practiced today, civil engineering has the most vibrant history. This should come as no surprise, since architecture, transportation pathways, energy systems, and overall infrastructure fall under the scope of civil engineering. But what exactly is accomplished through civil engineering, and how has it modernized—and been modernized by—today’s society?

The History of Civil Engineering

Civil engineering focuses on designing, constructing, and caring for buildings and transportation routes. Also, civil engineering includes the infrastructure that flows in and out of them. Its roots reach all the way back to ancient history, when Roman aqueducts carried water to cities with only stone and the power of gravity. Of course, one could argue that civil engineering goes back to the first mud-hut or lean-to ever constructed.

As a discipline, civil engineering first emerged with the creation of France’s Bridge and Highway Corps in 1716. That group, and the many iterations that followed, drafted manuals and books to share insight on infrastructure and construction concepts with all sorts of tradespeople. As the practice spread across Europe and, eventually, to new continents, it grew to include bridges, canals, and railways. As electricity became readily available to consumers and travelers took to the skies, utilities and air travel became members of the civil engineering group as well.

Civil Engineering Today

Today, the impact of civil engineering is all around us, and it’s evolving in real-time. With every smart device we plug into the wall, and with every drop of tap water we use, we’re taking part in the civil engineering cycle. Even tourist destinations such as the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum are evidence of old but sturdy methods of civil engineering.

As cities have grown and countries have globalized, civil engineering has grown right alongside them. Consider the various categories of the discipline: 

  • Architectural, construction, and structural civil engineering to create buildings of all kinds
  • Environmental civil engineering to develop and manage water and waste infrastructure
  • Transportation civil engineering to enable movement from place to place around the world
  • Geotechnical civil engineering to study geologic conditions and ensure steady foundations for earth structures and other buildings

And those are just a few examples of civil engineering sub-categories! In essence, anything that requires building or maintenance falls under this umbrella. It’s how we build these structures, and what these structures accomplish, that determines which sub-category is utilized.