Civil engineers (from structural and environmental programs) are primarily responsible for the planning, design and construction of infrastructure which includes major buildings, bridges, dams, pipelines, sewage and water treatment works, and various transportation systems and facilities. In order to provide workable, durable, and affordable solutions to society’s infrastructure needs, civil engineers must develop an understanding of the physical laws that govern the actions of nature and its environmental forces, and the behavior of natural and man-made materials. It is not surprising therefore that the basic research on the mechanics of solids and fluids was initially conducted by civil engineers working on solutions to practical problems. The importance of a sound knowledge base of these subjects is likely to increase in future as civil engineers are called upon to build in more hostile and delicate environments, to handle new materials, and to preserve natural resources.
As society evolves, the solutions to civil engineering problems are no longer exclusively technical issues. Instead, they require consideration of demographic trends, human aspirations, laws of supply and demand, and in general, social, economic and political factors. The civil engineers of the future will have to develop a better appreciation and understanding of these subjects to assume their rightful place in society.
The problems civil engineers face in the next century are likely to be increasingly complex. They should be viewed, however, as a new challenge and an opportunity to play a leadership role in shaping the future society, improving the quality of life and protecting the environment. To respond to this challenge, civil engineers will need a solid knowledge of the physical sciences, and an understanding of human and social behavior, familiarity with new methodologies and emerging technologies, and a continued eagerness to explore new areas and apply the latest research results. Research efforts should be closely related to the interest and needs of society. In this way the results will be more practical, the work itself will be more exciting and rewarding, and the contribution to mankind will be more meaningful. The civil engineering program at HKUST aims at giving students the technical skills, intellectual inspiration and appreciation of human factors to meet the challenges facing modern-day civil engineers.