The purpose of this article is to educate you on the difference between a building surveyor and a structural engineer. Let’s begin with the history of surveying. 

In the United States, a building surveyor is a person who does land surveying, or cartography. They used to use theodolites, or transits, which are optical telescopes with levels built into them, which can be aimed precisely (with crosshairs) at a target on top of a rod, or measuring stake, and held at a specific distance with chains. The artisan craft of this kind of cartography, which was practiced by American heroes and explorers like Daniel Boone, George Washington, and Benjamin Banneker, is generally being replaced by more technical equipment and methods which use highly automated “total stations” in place of delicate optical instruments and rods and chains.

Benjamin Banneker was a grandson of slaves who had been freed by their own efforts. Both his mother and his grandmother had become landowners, bought at the slave market, and then freed, the men who became their own husbands. Although Banneker had at most an 8th grade education, he had an amazing capacity which he poured his efforts into to become an accomplished inventor, surveyor, and author. When he borrowed a watch from an acquaintance, he disassembled it and created larger-scale wooden parts from which he assembled a clock which kept time and ran for 40 years.

Mr. Banneker later was given books on mathematics, telemetry, and astronomy by a neighbor who was impressed by his intelligence and self-education. Benjamin read them and eventually made his own astronomic calculations resulting in tables of eclipses and related phenomena. He wrote his own almanac which corrected errors in previous works, and sent a copy to Thomas Jefferson, who sent it on to The Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris, as evidence of the intelligence of people of African descent. Banneker was chosen that same year, 1791, as one of the surveying team of 6 appointed to survey the land used to build the emerging US capitol. As such, he was the first African-American who was a presidential appointee.

The Purpose of Surveying: Building Surveyor vs. Structural Engineer

The object of surveying, or cartography, is to precisely locate three-dimensional space points on land, buildings, or structures like bridges. These measurements verify the location and boundaries of land ownership, the movements of buildings or land, and confirm the accuracy of steps in the construction process, including the level of final construction. In the United States, surveying is sometimes carried out by civil engineers, but is a very separate discipline from structural engineering and engineers, who receive training  in very different ways. Many surveyors are also licensed without an engineering degree, after earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in land surveying.

In Great Britain, building surveyors and structural engineers both do reports on property, generally to guarantee its safety or maintainability, or move a sale forward. These kinds of surveys are what Americans would call “structural assessments” or “structural evaluations” The British difference between a “building survey” and a “structural survey” is what Americans would define as the difference between a “home inspection” done by a “home inspector” and a “structural assessment” or “structural inspection” done generally by a structural engineer, and stamped by a licensed structural engineer as a legal document.

Areté Provides Structural Design and Structural Assessments

Areté Engineering is a structural engineering firm in Blowing Rock, NC. We do not offer surveying services, in the sense of cartography, but we do what British would refer to as “building surveying,” or “structural surveying,” that is, we do structural assessments and inspections to verify the safety, maintainability, or salable condition of a property. 

After an initial inspection, we can provide more detailed assessments and inspections and then work with homeowners or business owners to design improvements, additions, or new construction to engineering standards using principles of structural engineering and design. Some of these services include the design of decks to hold hot tubs or other weights or loads, the design of engineered additions, and the design of entire homes, commercial buildings, and other structures. 

Contact us to learn more today!