Building Principles: Engineers, Surveyors, and Architects: They're All the Same, Aren't They?

by Rick Stryker, P.E.

The terms "engineering," "architecture," and "surveying," as well as the professions themselves, have been thought to be interchangeable. In fact, it has come as a surprise to a number of our clients that there is a difference. When seeking guidance on the future of camp development, it's critical to thoroughly understand what these disciplines provide, in what ways they overlap, and how they are distinct from each other.

Before we begin, some clarifications are in order. First, we have a bias because we are engineers. Generally speaking, we see camps as small towns with all of the requisite infrastructure of a small town — roads, water supply, sewage disposal, and recreational areas. As we'll see later, this is why municipalities have "Town Engineers." Next, bear in mind that all design professionals should be consultants, but that the reverse is not necessarily so. The company that sells equipment, supplies, and chemicals for the pool will gladly assist you with certain issues for your pool — selecting a disinfectant or even a filtration system (from their list of suppliers). So in that regard, they can be considered consultants. The design professional, however, is licensed by your state to provide your organization with specific, timely, and complete assistance to manage your facility, present or projected. You should receive advice, guidance, or designs that represent the professional's very best efforts to accommodate your needs and desires while complying with the regulations and codes governing their discipline.


How is a land survey different from the "off-the-shelf" maps like USGS, the county tax office, or even online maps? Imagine that you have witnessed a crime. The police ask you if you will sketch the criminal you saw leaving the scene. "Certainly," you say. You provide this: ?. The police officer looks skeptical. "THIS is the guy?" he says. "Absolutely!" You reply. "See how mean he looks?! I'd know him anywhere!"

For site development or planning, off-the-shelf mapping is as about as useful as the bad-guy sketch. A commissioned survey reveals all of the details that make your property unique. Each building, roadway, path, and improvement on your site make it as different as each line on your palm distinguishes you from every other person who may also have features similar to you. To attempt to arrange new facilities to support your programs without this information in hand hopelessly hamstrings the planning process.

The land surveyor's contribution to the process is the reconciliation of record information (property lines and deed information) with the location and features on the ground (both man-made and natural). Much more than a mapper, they must perform complex mathematical calculations and call on many years of experience to interpret and analyze old information and retrace work sometimes several hundred years old. They produce documents containing key data such as topography, streams, stone walls and fenced in trees, structures, tree lines, and improvements of all sorts. Their work represents the beginning point of any meaningful consideration of the site and its future. They also are licensed in the state in which they practice and must be prepared to defend decisions, actions, interpretations, and their analytical methods in a court of law. The property survey is the foundation upon which your facility house is built.

Engineers and Architects

As for engineers and architects, these are much like a hand in glove. They should work together to produce buildings that serve the occupancy, safety, and longevity needs of clients. The fundamental difference involves a left-brain/right-brain contribution to the process. To illustrate, consider the curriculum of both undergraduate courses of study. To be considered for entry into a school of architecture, an art portfolio is required. To be considered for entry into an engineering program, exceptional standardized test scores and mastery of advanced mathematics and science courses are the requirement. Once in school, the architecture student is exposed to further training in the history and development of architecture, as well as presentation and higher art skills. The engineering student is trained in ever-increasing levels of mathematics, as applied to modeling of all sorts of systems including fluids (water in pipes under pressure, in open channels like streams, and even air in ducts); structural members (steel, wood, and concrete); and even traffic. In short, the intense application of mathematics is the most distinct line between the fields.

The architect specializes in habitable structures and the way in which those structures affect their occupants, inhabitants, or visitors. They focus on the use of space, texture, color, and flow to create a mood, set a scene, and provide specific function. For camps, this "specific function" is the support of whatever program element is to occur in that space. Bunks or dorms need to provide sleeping, gathering, and small-group program space. In some cases, bathing and toilet functions are also included in those spaces. Dining halls and their kitchens are similarly configured to accommodate specific programs or program support functions.

The architect is charged with meeting state building codes and related federal regulations (like ADA) that set minimum design criteria on space per person and accessible bathrooms based on the occupancy and use of the final structure. The architect considers the population to use the building, the activities that will take place there, and how people will move into and through the space. The architect must reconcile these requirements with the desires of the client. It is an iterative process, with the consultant repeatedly refining the plan as the client refines (not changes) the envisioned function. Recent changes to many of the national model building codes have included extraordinarily complex considerations for wind and seismic loading on the buildings. Once the appearance, layout, and space issues are settled, architects should refer the designs of the structural components (load bearing walls, roof, and foundation) to structural engineers.

Simply put, engineers are professionals who apply science and mathematics to systems directly impacting the health, safety, or welfare of society at large. Engineers' conduct of calculations to select the correct material or equipment to serve the public interest is probably the most distinct difference between engineers and architects. They are immersed in the technology, products, materials, and methods that save time, money, and most importantly safeguard the health or life of the occupants of the site or structure.

There are a host of types and specialties of engineers, and they're far too numerous to list here. The ones that camps are most likely to engage are the structural and general civil disciplines. The structural engineer often works closely with the architect to design components of the building that require detailed mathematical analysis of loads to size and place those members that will bear the weight of the snow, wind, and earthquakes, along with the occupants and the structure proper.

The general civil engineer is charged with addressing the issues of human occupancy of the land in much the same way that the architect is charged with human occupancy and program use of the structures. Safe potable water supply volume; chemistry and biology; sewage collection, treatment, and disposal; roadways and parking; and drainage, sedimentation, and erosion control are all regular fare for the general civil engineer. Operating within the constraints of the land itself, these professionals prepare site development plans for consideration by local boards, as well as state and federal regulatory agencies.

Overlapping Disciplines

There are certainly areas where these disciplines overlap, and we've tried to illustrate this with the diagram on page 69. The overlapping areas are important because they represent tasks that could be "bundled" inside the scope of services of either consultant. Equally important, however, is to recognize the areas where there is no overlap. Those services listed only within a single circle are unique to that discipline. When a camp needs only those tasks performed, only that consultant should be involved.

It's important to note how slim the areas of overlap are between these disciplines. Each can make critical contributions to the operation and planning of the property and its improvements. However, each should be tasked with delivering services only within their scope of training and expertise.

Another way to work through what makes engineers and architects different is to consider what specific project questions each answers. We've developed the chart above that may help to illustrate this idea.

An Example
Let's use a swimming pool as a simple example and see how each of these specialists should contribute. The surveyor provides the mapping of the area where the pool is to go so that the available space can be assessed and the project fit within the property boundaries. The engineer should be preparing plans for local development approval, asserting that this is an accessory use to a summer camp and that the installation will not affect access or violate any of the land development regulations. In addition, the supply, filtration, and circulation of the pool water and the disposal of the wastewater are all the responsibility of the engineer. The architect should be preparing plans for the shower house, since that's an issue of occupancy, use, and the flow of people. But we still don't have a complete pool project. Since it's a "nonhabitable" facility, either an engineer or an architect could reasonably provide much of the other design support. Ultimately, the client must choose a lead consultant to set the course for the project, with the aspects mentioned previously being delivered by a subconsulting agreement.

So Who Should a Camp Hire?

We recommend that a camp retain both professionals continuously. While some organizations choose to deal with only an engineer or an architect, allowing that professional to "subcontract" the other specialty separately, this has significant shortcomings. As a subconsultant, one professional is working through a "communication buffer" of the other professional. It is critical that you, the owner, speak regularly and directly with each — understanding the issues being resolved by each along the way. Decisions made during the planning and design process will determine the appearance, shape, and capital and operational costs of the final project. Without your direct input, it's likely that what is built will not suit your organization as perfectly as it could or should. And as a matter of finances, know that when a consultant hires another on camp's behalf, the billing is marked up 15 percent to 20 percent, as well. In effect, camp is paying more for less.

Just like each member of your staff brings talents and skills that are unique, each profession has a valuable, unique contribution to seeing your project to a successful end. By understanding better what your consultants can best deliver, you can spend your camp's money smarter and get a better bang for your buck.

Rick Stryker is a professional engineer with Camp Facilities Consulting, providing study, design, permitting, and construction consultation services to the camp and conference center community. Camp personnel may contact him at 570-296-2765 or by e-mail at

Originally published in the 2005 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.