Bringing Sexy Back to Civil Engineering

“I didn’t know Ware Malcomb had civil engineering.”

If there is one line I’ve heard repeated time and time again during my three years as Director of Civil Engineering, it’s this one.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Ware Malcomb is known for its progressive yet functional designs, client-focused industry expertise, and a hip culture. None of these qualities scream civil engineering; at least not in the traditional sense.

Compared to architecture, civil engineering is admittedly bland. While architects seek inspiration for creative and cohesive design elements (whatever that means), civil engineers calculate grades and pipe sizes to ensure that people don’t step in puddles when it rains (very practical). We don’t design awe-inspiring commercial buildings or enticing interior spaces. Instead, we model and specify advanced multistage stormwater detention systems…that eventually get covered up with dirt and paved over. Alluring we are not. Given our differences, is it any wonder why architects and engineers don’t always see eye to eye?

What I’ve discovered, however, is that amazing things can happen when civil engineers and architects are put in a room together and forced to play nice. They start to rub off on each other. Suddenly, the architects are designating areas for stormwater bioretention on their site plans. And the civil engineers are inserting terms like “floor area ratio” and “neotraditional” into their everyday conversations. A strange world indeed, but one in which the clients benefit from truly integrated services and aren’t forced to play referee between their consultants.

Here is an example of how effective the integration of these services can be:

I was recently sitting in a client’s conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. Tom Myers, one of our Commercial Architecture Principals, was in the room along with the client. Over the course of three hours, we worked together to develop a cost-optimized site plan and preliminary grading concept for a huge industrial building on aggressive, hilly terrain. The dialogue was intensely focused on balancing the practical needs of the site with the various technical constraints and cost considerations. The end result was nothing short of amazing. It didn’t take weeks of back and forth finger-pointing. What it took was an integrated design team dedicated to the collaborative pursuit of an innovative solution. In other words, architects and civil engineers playing nice together.

While we may still be a long way from making civil engineering sexy, the advantages of combined disciplines under one roof is clear. Just don’t expect us to break out our colored pens anytime soon.

Connect with our Civil Engineering Experts!








Michael Murphy, PE
Director of Engineering








Sonia Sorensen, PE
Engineering Regional Manager