What is Civil Engineering?


A bridge is an example of civil engineering


In our last blog, we explained what a structural engineer does and when you might need to call one.  This week we’ve lifted the lid on one of the oldest professions known to man: civil engineering.


Starting with a brief history of this ancient discipline, we go on to discuss the impact of modern civil engineering and provide an answer to a question we are constantly asked: what is the difference between a structural engineer and a civil engineer?


We round off with several case studies on some of the most well-known civil engineering projects HLN Engineering Ltd has contributed to.


Civil Engineering – a brief history


The oldest form of engineering known to man, evidence of the practice of civil engineering stretches as far back as 2000 BC.


To this day, we are constantly reminded of the extraordinary feats of engineering carried out by those that came before us.  Take for instance the pyramids of Giza; the Parthenon in Greece; even the Great Wall of China.


The Romans, one of the earliest civilisations noted for its mastery of civil engineering, were responsible for a range of structures we take for granted to this very day.  These include, but are not limited to:


  • Roads;
  • Bridges;
  • Tunnels;
  • Aqueducts;
  • Dams

Here’s a little-known fact: The Romans invented concrete.


Modern Civil Engineering


Civil engineering has come on a bit since the time of the Roman empire.  Today it is an enormously varied field that encompasses a range of other engineering disciplines, such as:


  • Structural engineering;
  • Environmental engineering;
  • Geotechnical engineering


Broadly speaking, civil engineering is and always has been about mankind’s interaction with the natural World; our ability to extract and use the Earth’s resources for the sake of human prosperity.  This so-called control of nature is what has driven us forward as a race for millennia.


There is a lot of common ground between structural engineering and civil engineering

The population of the Earth is increasing, so more than ever we look towards science and civil engineering to help alleviate the problems we collectively face: more so than ever our cities are over-crowded; we are currently experiencing unprecedented levels of pollution; a more connected World requires a more efficient means of travel.  To quote the American Association of Civil Engineers:



“Civil engineers design, build, and maintain the foundation for our modern society – our roads and bridges, drinking water and energy systems, sea ports and airports, and the infrastructure for a cleaner environment, to name just a few.”



It goes without saying that the Civil engineering has helped shape the World as we know.


The Role of a Civil Engineer


Some people often confuse or conflate the role of a civil engineer with that of a structural engineer.  The most comprehensive way of differentiating between the two is as follows:


Structural engineer

Sometimes referred to as a subset of civil engineering, structural engineering has developed into its own separate discipline.  Structural engineers are responsible for designing and assessing the strength and durability of structures.


Civil engineer

Simply put, Civil engineers are involved in the design and subsequent construction of large infrastructure projects, the sort that impact on our everyday lives.  These include roads, bridges, canals, dams, airports and tunnels.


Another key difference is that Structural Engineers are consulted for both domestic and large-scale projects.  You would be hard pressed to find a civil engineer working on the designs for a loft conversion…


Case Studies – Civil Engineering Projects


HLN Engineering Ltd is comprised of an experienced group of chartered structural and civil engineers.  Over the years, we have acted as lead consultants on a wide range of civil engineering projects.  The following case studies are a reflection of our skills and expertise.


Roath Basin and Porth Teigr

The BBC’s Roath Lock studios, situated in Porth Teigr (Tiger Bay in English), opened its doors in 2011 and is home to some of our favourite TV programmes, including Casualty and Doctor Who.


Erecting the studios on one of the last remaining stretches of land in Cardiff Bay was met with a range of challenges.  As a result, HLN Engineering Ltd were brought in to provide a range of civil, structural and environmental engineering services.


These included:


  • Design and supervision of the first round of enabling works required, prior to the first phase of development. This included land re-meditation and material recycling from the surrounding area.


  • Infrastructure design, Earthworks strategy and subsequent implementation of a soil and groundwater remediation strategy.


  • Acting as general supervisor for all civil, structural and environmental engineering activity, we were required to ensure that all works carried out were done so in accordance with pre-approved designs and management plans.


  • Due to the magnitude of the project and potential environmental impact, close liaison with Cardiff County Cardiff and the Environment Agency was required at all times, for the sake of site visits and managing local authority sign offs.


Nottingham Waterside

HLN Engineering Ltd is part of the HLN Group of companies, an organisation known for its expertise in civil and structural engineering.  Several staff members working at group level are well versed in environmental engineering and collaborate with us on all projects where environmental sustainability and public health are concerned.  The regeneration of the Nottingham Waterside is a classic example.


It was essential that the regeneration of the Nottingham Waterside, which stretches all the way from Trent Bridge to Colwich Park, was conducted in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.  As such, a detailed flood risk assessment was required as part of the scheme’s planning application.


The flood risk assessment carried out by HLN Engineering Ltd identified that raising the current flood walls, although effective in the interim, would not offer a long-term sustainable solution.  The impact of excess flood water, as a result of climate change, would need to be factored in.  Therefore, in-line with the ‘1-100 year’ flood principle, allowances were made for flood water to enter the site at key areas.


To help manage the risk of flooding, ground-level car parks were set lower than normal and designed to take on flood water.  Further to this, sustainable drainage techniques were incorporated throughout, reducing flow rates into the river Trent and allowing excess water to be stored and re-used for amenity purposes.


Bristol Airport

HLN Engineering has a good working relationship Bristol Airport and since 2009 we have been involved in the airport’s ambitious expansion plans.


A lengthy project, which aims to increase the airport’s capacity from 6 million passengers a year to 12 million, the expansion will incorporate the following changes and additions:


  • Major re-development of terminal 1 and 2;
  • A 251-room hotel;
  • A new multi-storey car park and an extension of the current outdoor parking area;
  • A new passenger walkway


Aside from this, the expansion will incorporate a large retail and commercial space, increasing the airport’s capacity for restaurants and shopping outlets in line with demand.


Key areas of involvement include the design and installation of a SUDS storm drainage system for the airport’s primary car park, as-well as design work for the expansion of the West Terminal and a new fire station (including training facility and snow vehicle storage).

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