The Art of Urban Engineering

Ever wondered how your city was designed and built, and who was involved in making those decisions? You may be surprised to discover that it was not only town planners, urban designers, and architects that designed your city. Engineers were involved too! 

This sub-discipline of civil engineering is called ‘urban engineering’. We chatted to Lithon’s urban engineering expert, Willie Knouwds, to learn how engineers contribute to making city spaces both functional and beautiful.


How Does Urban Engineering Shape Our Lives?

Urban engineers work behind the scenes to translate the visions of town planners, urban designers, and architects into functional and practical spaces. They often work with other kinds of engineers such as traffic and transport engineers; structural engineers for the design of buildings, bridges and dams; and mechanical engineers when large pipelines are needed. 

Urban engineers are not just technical experts; they’re the architects of our day-to-day lives. Here are some key areas where they make a crucial difference:


Designing Effective Transport Systems

Urban engineers need to understand how people in a specific community move around. 

This usually involves designing around public transport systems, allowing for bus lanes and stops, bicycle paths, and other kinds of non-motorised transport. Effective transport systems might also include allowance for bridges over water sources. Design and layout of street and traffic lights is often part of an urban engineer’s job too. Most importantly though, they need to cater for pedestrians, particularly in communities where not everyone owns a car. 

Understanding the existing flow of movement is essential, says Willie. Sometimes the way the community behaves is unexpected. He cites an example of Lithon’s upgrade to Eneas Peter Nanyemba road. This road is being upgraded to a dual carriageway and will also feature provision for a bus rapid transit system. Before the upgrade, children from the local community used to walk on the side of the road to and from school. After tarring the centre of the road, the children now walk in the middle, leaving the cars to drive around them on the dirt! Once the project is complete, the children should be able to enjoy walking on paved sidewalks safely away from the moving cars. 


Improving Access to Basic Services

Urban engineers help with the design of basic services in urban spaces. These include supply of clean water, removal of waste water and sewage, and provision of electricity. It’s essential to understand the natural flow of water on a particular piece of land, explains Willie. In settlements near a river, flooding could potentially be an issue so adequate storm water drainage is all-important. 

Floods are not the only problem though. Sewerage systems also require careful planning to ensure effective flow away from buildings. To tackle these complexities, it’s best for urban engineers to be engaged right at the beginning of a town planning project.They often undertake studies such as a Flood Line Analysis. These studies can be very helpful for urban designers and architects when trying to figure out where to place the buildings on a site. 


Conserving the Natural Environment 

Urban engineers help to preserve the natural environment surrounding a settlement. Healthy and happy green spaces should not be considered optional – they are essential to the wellbeing of people but also to the environment.  Willie shares an example at Osona Village where a decision was made to move the entrance because of some existing protected trees. Instead the nearby road was carefully designed so that the existing trees could live happily on the island of the dual carriageway. All thanks to the urban engineers for saving the day!


Creating Spaces for Recreation

Thankfully, when it comes to green spaces to play in, urban engineers have us covered too. On top of preserving the natural environment, urban engineers know how to turn potential environmental challenges into opportunities. One example is a project planned at the Klein Windhoek River. Interventions around the river should make it a safe and accessible space for the public, while also preserving the river’s natural essence. 


Create Quality Urban Spaces with Lithon

In a nutshell, urban engineering is a foundational to city design, impacting everything from transport systems to green spaces. It’s a multidisciplinary field where technical skills meet social understanding. Crafting urban spaces that serve both people and the environment is no easy task but it’s a challenge that our engineers at Lithon relish. If you’re looking for advice on your next urban engineering project, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team of experts. Email us at


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Urban engineering is not all glitz and glamour. Sometimes it can be a stinky job, says civil engineering expert, Willie Knouwds with a chuckle, referring to times when he’s had to access open sewers to diagnose a problem. 💩

Curved streets and irregular plots? No problem for Lithon! Engineers love squares and rectangles because they are easy to work with, and well, sewer lines don’t bend easily. But sometimes we have to think laterally and creatively tackle the challenges that come with unconventional city designs. Good thing our urban engineering team loves a challenge!