Architectural Engineer vs. Architect

Architectural engineers design operating systems, such as plumbing for buildings.
i Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
Architectural engineers design operating systems, such as plumbing for buildings.

Were you that kid who stole your brother’s blocks to build extravagant towers and fanciful cities? Now that you’re all grown up, set your sights on the real-life version of playing with blocks -- the realm of architecture. Your next decision is to choose between architecture and architectural engineering, which sound the same but have some distinct differences.

Aesthetics and Function

The primary difference between an architect and an architectural engineer involves aesthetics and function. Architects work with clients to determine how a building or the different spaces within a building will be used. This can include decisions such as the size of a room, how the design affects traffic flow, where to place windows or other design features. An architectural engineer is more concerned with the building systems and structure. Architectural engineers design plumbing, fire protection, and electrical, heating and cooling systems around the architect’s layout.


Each state regulates the practice of architecture, so educational requirements vary. Most architects earn a five-year bachelor’s degree from a school accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Students study computer-aided design and drafting -- or CADD -- structures, technology, construction methods, professional practice, math, physical sciences and liberal arts. In addition, they work in design studios where they learn to build three-dimensional models of their designs. Some students go on for more advanced degrees, such as a master's or doctorate.

Architectural Engineer

Architectural engineering programs are similar in some ways to architect programs. Students generally pursue a five-year program that leads to a bachelor’s degree. Architectural engineers learn about topics from other engineering disciplines, such as architecture, structural engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. They study advanced math and other sciences, such as calculus, physics and chemistry, as well as engineering science. Architectural engineers also learn how to use CADD programs in their training and must understand construction techniques.

Licensing and Salaries

Most states require that architects and architectural engineers be licensed, although requirements vary by state. Architects must also complete an internship of at least three years to gain work experience before they are eligible to sit for the licensing exam, which is called the Architect Registration Examination. Some states also require internships for architectural engineers. Texas, for example, requires a four-year internship under the supervision of a licensed engineer. The average annual salary for an architect in 2011 was $79,300, according to the BLS. The BLS does not track architectural engineers, but the American Society of Mechanical Engineers reported salaries for architectural engineers were between $79,227 and $85,000 a year in 2011.

2016 Salary Information for Architects

Architects earned a median annual salary of $76,930 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, architects earned a 25th percentile salary of $59,000, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $99,790, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 128,800 people were employed in the U.S. as architects.

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