Horizontal vs. Vertical Construction: 4 Key Differences

Horizontal Construction

Horizontal and vertical construction are terms used in the building industry to describe the physical orientation of a built structure. Simply put, horizontal construction refers to structures that are more spread out relative to their height, while vertical construction refers to taller structures that are more confined in terms of their footprint.

Horizontal construction requires more land space to build since these structures usually have a greater width and length than height. Vertical construction is typically associated with structures that are built vertically and stretch upward more.

Read on to learn more about horizontal and vertical construction and the differences between them. We’ll also cover the advantages and disadvantages of each construction type.

Horizontal Construction: A Brief Overview

As you might imagine, anything horizontal is characterized by a more pronounced length parallel to the ground. In other words, horizontal objects run along the ground surface, whether it touches it or not.

In the same vein, horizontal structures, also called heavy civil structures, have more length and width than height. They are usually massive projects like railroads, bridges, highways, airfields, and other such structures.

Additional examples of horizontal construction are electric lines, pipelines, transmission facilities, water lines, sewers, and fiber optics.

A peculiar feature of horizontal construction is that it is mostly funded by the government. Many horizontal structures focus on infrastructure and transit. They aid in the economic development of the society as they are essential in transporting commodities with ease.

Horizontal structures also prioritize the functions of a structural engineer and expert than an architectural engineer or expert. As a result, horizontal construction projects lend more importance to structural strength and functionality than their aesthetic appearance. 

In most cases, a horizontal construction project’s structural engineer also takes the project manager’s role, meaning an individual with a stronger bond with the industry is in charge.

Vertical Construction: A Brief Overview

Vertical construction, as opposed to horizontal construction, includes civil structures with greater height than length. In other words, they are usually taller than they are wide.

Vertical construction projects are typically designed by architects. These structures exhibit a great deal of aesthetics as seen in apartment buildings, skyscrapers, and commercial buildings. They are also safe and structurally sound, meaning the architects work with structural engineers and builders to carry out the project.

This type of construction is essential to the economy of a society. It directly impacts the tourism industry in most advanced countries. Countries known for architectural excellence have earned a respectable national income through tourists’ inflow as many people flock in yearly to see their architectural wonders.

Most vertical construction projects rely on private funding by organizations and individuals. Governments hardly favor the construction of tall buildings with public funds. Many of these structures are built as long-term investments by organizations in the private sector.

Key Differences Between Horizontal and Vertical Construction

There are several differences between horizontal and vertical construction. These differences can be seen in the space they require, how wide or tall they are, the source of funding the projects, the personnel involved in executing the projects, and the purpose they serve.

1. Spatial Relation

Since horizontal construction is characterized by more length and width rather than height, it requires more space to be built. For example, a 20-mile road cannot use less than 20 miles of space. It needs enough space to accommodate its massive length.

On the other hand, vertical construction requires as much space as horizontal construction, but in another dimension. There is always a need for more height space with vertical structure than for length or width space.

2. Funding Source

Horizontal projects are mostly government-funded. They are meant to make the livelihood and commerce of a community better. Good commerce means more income for the citizenry and consequently for the government. Public funds are responsible for horizontal construction.

Individuals and private organizations fund vertical construction projects. Buildings like skyscrapers and surface parking areas are usually privately owned. Despite their advantage as a means of making life easier for the masses, it is meant to provide profit for the individuals and investors behind its construction.Investors need little things that bring huge profits. This is why they prefer to acquire little land spaces and build huge structures to maximize their profit.

3. Experts Involved

The personnel involved in horizontal construction aren’t very different from those in vertical construction. Both types of construction require structural and architectural engineers. However, one entity takes a more prominent role than the other in different circumstances.

Highways, bridges, floodways, canals, and railroads require more of a civil or structural engineer’s expertise in horizontal construction. The design and materials to be used have to follow the structural engineer’s requirement based on their expert evaluation and conclusion.

In vertical construction projects, the role of the architect is generally more critical. Structural engineers play a large role as well, though they typically work per the architect’s design specifications. The architect makes artistic designs that ensure the structure is both aesthetically pleasing and structurally good. He or she can maximize the available space, which is the basis of vertical construction. 

The structural engineer determines the best material to realize the architect’s design without compromising quality. 

4. Purpose of the Structure

Horizontal construction is used to drive a better commercial environment and fuel the economy. Most of these structures are built to ease the transportation of goods and commodities and generally make life easier.

They are also meant to help the government generate income directly (through tolls) or indirectly (through commerce proceeds, paid as tax). They are especially important during periods of recession in a country.Vertical construction projects are mainly embarked on by their owners (usually individuals and private investors) for profit. Because of the huge architectural expertise put into them, vertical structures such as towers and skyscrapers command a lot of attention due to their aesthetic appeal.

Pros of Horizontal Construction

  • Ease of moving construction materials.
  • Less likely to have casualties in case of mishaps such as earthquakes and fire.
  • Less expensive to use.
  • Fewer subcontractors are involved in the execution of the project.

Cons of Horizontal Construction

  • Structures require a lot of ground space.
  • Difficult and expensive to execute in urban areas.

Pros of Vertical Construction

  • Structures require less space to build.
  • It can become a major source of attraction and, consequently, income to both investors and the government.
  • Well suited to urban areas.
  • Investments in technological resources are mainly aimed at vertical construction projects.

Cons of Vertical Construction

  • Conveyance of materials up and down the structure during construction is costly.
  • The collaboration between the architect and structural engineer often doesn’t work out and can result in disagreements.
  • More subcontractors are required to complete the project, which can increase the cost, budget, and risk involved.
  • It is more expensive to maintain.
  • A lot of measures must be put in place to keep the building and its occupants safe.
  • It is not a suitable choice of construction in a period of recession.


Construction is essential in any developing society. The construction type used on a project will depend on the area, land availability, and the building’s purpose. Both horizontal and vertical construction are important and have to coexist to maximize an area’s developmental potential in terms of structures.

As seen in the article, each construction type has its advantages and disadvantages. At the end of the day, the choice will largely depend on capabilities, budget, experience, and preferences on the part of the owner and consultant teams.