Man has been building structures since the dawn of civilization. From the simplest, most rudimentary structures such as shelters, man has learnt from our efforts in building. As populations grew, the need for towns, then cities, became necessary. With this came the need for roads, bridges, water supply and sewage systems. The lessons learnt have permitted successive generations of similar structures to be constructed in a better manner through the use of better materials, methods of construction and designs. Although the term engineer may not have been used, these simple structures were examples of basic engineering.
Since then, civilizations have flourished for millennia, and associated with their growth was an effective system of structures and infrastructures built by engineers. These skills allowed each civilization to progressively improve the quality of life for their citizens and to facilitate the growth of their civilization. It also afforded them, through their engineers, an opportunity to build structures that were unsurpassed in their era and to showcase themselves to the rest of the world. The Mayan Temples in Mexico, Parthenon in Greece, Coliseum in Rome, Great Wall in China and Taj Mahal in India are such structures.
Humankind has progressed significantly since these times. In the last 150 years, the industrial age brought with it an era of unsurpassed mechanical productivity which facilitated the ready availability of steel and other building materials. This, in turn, has allowed us to build larger and taller structures now than were ever dreamed possible.
The rise of this nation, particularly towards the end of the nineteenth century and through the middle of the twentieth century, was directly attributable to the successes of the Civil Engineer. Our leaders realized that an effective infrastructure was essential for the growth of our nation and to improve the life of our citizens. Several large-scale plans were envisioned and undertaken. Funds were
allocated and laws were enacted to ensure these goals were met. Structures such as the Transcontinental Railroad, Brooklyn Bridge, Panama Canal, Hoover Dam and Empire State Building were built, and the Civil Engineer was viewed as the pioneer of this era, both professionally and socially, braving himself against harsh and barbarous landscapes to build structures that would better serve people.
Civil Engineers began to play a less visible role near the end of World War II. Military spending became the largest segment of government spending during the cold war. It was believed that the essential infrastructure of this nation was in place and that defense of the nation during the cold war was a priority. Laws changed, holding businesses and professionals responsible for individual harm. The concept that a loss of life as a result of these efforts, however regrettable, was necessary in order for the nation to progress, no longer held true. Additionally, there has been a gradual erosion of the economic loss rule. This economic loss rule essentially shields designers and contractors from any economic losses an individual or a corporation sustains as a result of a project. The erosion of this rule has forced engineers to design structures that are more averse to risk, using tested and proven techniques and methods, as opposed to utilizing and implementing innovative designs and procedures.
As we approach an era where the infrastructure has reached capacity in a more urbanized landscape than was ever thought possible, the role of the engineer has become even more challenging. Our ability to build greater structures in more restricted environments has significantly improved through the use of better materials, methods and designs. Rebuilding the infrastructure or the construction of new buildings in populated areas involves community participation, maintaining quality-of-life issues for area residents and businesses and minimizing the impact of projects on the community. Use of economic, environmentally friendly products is becoming more widespread and, in some cases, mandatory. Designs that are context-sensitive, sustainable and environmentally-friendly are becoming prerequisites rather than luxuries. More engineers are becoming certified by the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building.