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The anatomy of a building services engineer

Richard Smith | 09 Aug 2016 | Comments

Look around you. Most likely wherever you are there are cooling and heating systems, security and alarm systems, lifts, fire alarms, lighting and ventilation. All of these are building services, and they are integral to the spaces we live, work and play in.

So who are the mystery men and women who design these services and make our buildings work? As the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) describe it ‘Building Services Engineering is all about making buildings meet the needs of the people who live and work in them’.

We used to be known as ‘M&E’ (mechanical & electrical) engineers and some parts of the world still know us as ‘MEP’ (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) or even ‘Electro-Mechanical’. So what do we call the millions of engineers worldwide that are involved with the engineering services within buildings? Things are converging and over time the world is coming around to building services as the term to describe our role.

Over the past 20 years, the complexity of the buildings and systems that building services engineers design and install has increased. Moreover, we find ourselves involved in a great deal more simulation of systems, buildings and internal environments to achieve sustainable, low impact and optimised spaces.

All of this has forced the requirement for more sub divisions within the building services sector. With more building services specialisms emerging, there is an increasing need for building services engineers – and their employers – to understand where their knowledge limitations lie, what specialists are needed for what work, and how different specialisms should collaborate and work together.

Those of us who practice as building services engineers soon realise that we can only achieve a high level of competence in some fields of building services. During our careers we tend to develop a deep capability in our chosen areas and a broad understanding of the other areas. However, while most of us understand the breakdown of building service specialisms to some extent, the definitions we have are rarely complete, are often from only one standpoint and vary from one source to another.

I believe we need a standard building services taxonomy and if possible, one that can work globally. A standard taxonomy would bring more rigour to our collective understanding of building services and a more consistent approach to collaborative working, skills analysis, career development, and knowledge and interface management. This sounds like a simple task but in practice it is surprisingly complex. At Atkins we are working on a four tier, skills related, building services taxonomy, illustrated in this pdf.

This diagram aims to cover building services and all of its sub-divisions. Although it is by no means exhaustive – and may never be, with the huge amount of change we continue to see in what we do and how we work – we believe it goes some way to providing the breakdown the industry needs to improve our understanding of everything building services covers. With a more detailed definition of what a building services engineer does, we can finally start to piece together, and describe to the rest of the industry, what the anatomy of a building services engineer really is.