Monday, October 15, 2012

Is Architecture Part of Engineering?

An engineer tries to figure out “what” and “how”; an architect more focuses on “why” and “what.”

Architecture and engineering are interrelated disciplines. Is the architecture part of engineering? In 1970th, a team of cognitive scientists and psychologists in Europe did surveys at engineering and architectural schools as well as among practicing engineers and architects, the thousands of results showed that they did not share the thinking process to solve problems, however, there’s an intersection between two disciplines.


 1. Think Differently, but Architecture Overlaps with Engineering

  • Architecture requires a different perspective from engineering. While architects are exposed to the concept of engineering, they do not follow an engineering process in how they solve problems. The way that architects solve problems comes from design thinking, not just the engineering way of thinking. But, there is some truth that architecture overlaps with engineering.
  • An architect's viewpoint is different from an engineer's: An architect must consider the whole, and their purpose is to achieve the goals for the thing being architected. An engineer, on the other hand, should also think about the goals, but their first concern should be meeting the narrower requirements that their aspect of the overall design must meet. An engineer must be able to design down to the last detail, whereas an architect need not be concerned with all of the contexts.
  • Architecture is part of the engineering process. An architect must know the relevant aspects of engineering. Otherwise, they cannot make good decisions about the architecture: they will design a building that cannot be built. Knowing how things actually work and how they are done is indispensable to an architect.
  •  There is an intersection between two Disciplines: Engineering (HOW) is important but only in the context of architecture (WHY); architecture (WHY) is important but only in the context of engineering (HOW). Architects identify the complete set of components that must be engineered. The engineer takes one of them as a logical whole, and figures out all of the elements necessary for the component-level outcome - the component architecture.
  • EA vs. Engineering at Multitude of View: At information view, architecture and engineering are parallel and overlapping; at process view, architecture occurs prior to engineering with feedback loops, at structural/organizational view, each company will set things up in their own way,  but it is rare to find a company where architects flourish while reporting to engineers and similarly, it’s rare to find a company where engineers flourish while reporting to the architect; the more productive teams thrive when they are independent of one another structurally; at career progression view, more typically, architects are either independently trained or engineers transition to architecture roles over time. The other direction seems rare.

2. Architecture and Engineering are different points on the same continuum

Because architects and engineers think differently, it does not mean that architecture and engineering are not part of a continuum. Perhaps the architects are those among the engineers who are able to think holistically.

  • Two Level of Design: The attempts to draw a hard, bright line between architecture and engineering will be doomed to failure, as they’re two levels of design. Any "architected structure" tends to evolve through various stages of abstraction: Contextual; Conceptual; Logical; and Physical. The exact architecture/engineering cross-over point is a matter for architects and engineers working together.

  • EA Decomposing the Complexity: Think complexity! The major issue at hand in architecture is effective partitioning (leading to effective decomposition to handle the complexity). You can logically, naturally partition a complex business. You can then use this business partitioning to come up with a logical, natural application partitioning and infrastructure partitioning. What you cannot do is to come up with a logical, natural application or infrastructure partitioning without first considering business partitioning.
  • Both are ingredients of planning & designing: Though thinking like an architect is different from thinking like an engineer, the point about the continuum is that architecture is mere an ingredient of planning and designing something, just as engineering is.
  • EA Bridging the Silos: Silos come in multiple flavors, some are cultural, some are geographical. some are organizational, some are linguistic, some are even technical. Different stripes, different colors; An architecture can be consist of multiple aspects, and the multiple aspects could be architected in their own right. Both are equally valid perspectives.  It may also be a subordinate architecture of some larger, higher level, architecture. These are not mutually exclusive ways of looking at the world, or at enterprise architecture.

3. An Architect Ensures System Effectiveness, an Engineer Ensures System Efficiency


  • An engineer ensures that a company builds a system right (efficiency); an architect ensures that a company builds the right system. (Effectiveness).
  • An engineer ensures the project implemented fitting for specification; an enterprise architect ensures that the organization fits for the purpose.
  • Architecture does make sure all of the elements necessary for an outcome are present; engineering makes sure those elements are put together well.
  • An engineer tries to figure out “what” and “how”; an architect more focuses on “why” and “what”; though a good engineer may also need to frequently ask “why,” and a good architect may also know-how at a certain level;  
  • Engineering a wrong system may cost a lot more time and money than Architecting a wrong system;
  • An architect is also the "chief engineer" of a system, in which the architect must make sure that everything works as a "system", not just from a technical perspective,  but from the perspective of the system's goals. So the architect does also have the role of ensuring overall integrity.

13 comments:

Very nice analysis on architecture and engineering! Thanks for sharing!

Very good article - thanks. When I look at many DoD systems we've been involved with over the years, most seem more a loosely-coupled federation of otherwise largely independent systems (a system-of-systems)... Maybe that has more to do w/ the difficulty of characterizing (modeling) & certifying a combat system's fitness for purpose than anything. In my humble opinion, the Navy's LCS could have been a major advancement in the deployment of shipboard utility computing. For example, an organic, and virtualized computing plant (architecture) that can be dynamically configured to support the mission at hand vs. current strategies to develop "ISO Containers" housing various combat systems, that are then physically loaded for a specific future mission...

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