A Historical Perspective on Civil Engineering Also refer to: The Structural Engineering History

Leonhard Euler devised a theory accounting for column buckling

Since humans have existed, engineering has played a part in daily life. The first civil engineering efforts took place in Ancient Egypt, South Asia and Iraq from 4000 BC to 2000 BC, when humans began to reject a nomadic lifestyle, which created a demand for shelter. Throughout this period, transport became more and more important, resulting in the invention of sailing and the wheel.

Before the modern era, architecture and civil engineering were one and the same thing, and the terms ‘architect’ and ‘engineer’ were geographical variations relating to a single profession – and frequently used interchangeably. When Egyptian pyramids were built around 2700 BC to 2500 BC, this was one of the first examples of large scale construction. Other ancient civil engineering projects were the Qanat water system (the first system was built over 3000 years ago, and was more than seventy-one kilometers in length), the Iktinos Parthenon in Greece (built from 447 BC to 438 BC), the Appian Way in Rome (circa 312 BC), the Chinese Great Wall erected around 220 BC under the orders of Emperor Shih Huang, and the ancient Sri Lankan stupas –  such as the Anuradhapura irrigation works and the Jetavanaramaya. During their reign, the Romans designed civil structures, which included insulae, aqueducts, bridges, harbors, roads and dams.

The influence of John Smeaton

During the eighteenth century, the phrase ‘civil engineering’ was used to refer to civilian structures, rather than those used for the military. John Smeaton was the first official civil engineer, who built the Eddystone Lighthouse. Smeaton formed the Smeatonian Civil Engineer Society with a few colleagues in 1771. This was a group of industry experts, who socialised over dinner. While some of their meetings discussed technical matters, most of the time they were social gatherings.

The Civil Engineers Institution was established in London in 1818. Then, the celebrated engineer Thomas Telford took over as president in 1820. In 1828, the institution was awarded a Royal Charter, which formally recognised the profession of civil engineering. Its’ charter described the profession as:

the act of using natural power sources to make life more convenient for humans, and a way of increasing state production, for both internal and external trade, relating to the building of bridges, roads, canals, aqueducts, docks and river navigation for internal exchange and intercourse, and relating to the building of harbours, ports, breakwaters, lighthouses and moles, and the act of navigation via artificial power for commercial purposes, and the building of machines and drainage of towns and cities.

Civil engineering Melb uses scientific and physical concepts to solve societal problems, and it is historically connected to advancements in maths and physics. It is a broad profession, which includes numerous sub disciplines, so its’ history is connected to an understanding of materials, structures, geography, mechanics, science, soils, geology, environment, hydrology and other areas.

During medieval and ancient history, the majority of architectural construction and design was performed by artisans, like carpenters, stonemasons and master builders. Local guilds retained this knowledge and it was rarely shared with outsiders. Roads, infrastructure and buildings that existed were of a similar design, and scale increases were gradual.

Archimedes, who was alive in the third century BC, adopted a scientific method to solve mathematical and physical problems linked to civil engineering. The Archimedes Principle underpins our knowledge of buoyancy, and the Archimedes’ screw was a groundbreaking practical solution. The Indian mathematician Brahmagupta used maths in the seventh century AD, with Hindu/Arabic numerals, for volume (excavation) computations.