This chapter presents texts (Vitruvius and Pliny the Elder are prominent, but many inscriptions are pertinent) related to two basic elements of construction engineering: the materials and the technical problems involved in their use to build structures. Other engineering projects and associated technologies are discussed elsewhere: aqueducts and tunnels (Chapter 9), roads and bridges (Chapter 11), harbours and canals (Chapter 11), and fortifications (Chapter 13), mechanical devices used for construction (Chapter 2), and methods of measurement (Chapter 11).

Shelter is a major concern for humans in all periods. In antiquity, constructed shelters replaced natural refuges, such as caves, as humans left their natural protection behind to seek environments more suitable to their needs. The types of man-made structures were dependent on many factors: technical skill and tools (simple to complex) and structural forms (post-and-lintel, arches, vaults, domes) were crucial, as were the environment and climate and the availability and nature of the building materials. Cold and rainy regions presented different challenges than hot, dry areas, or damp, warm climates. Technology was the key to using materials more permanent than wood: stone, concrete with pozzolana, and kiln-fired brick. Once settlements became more permanent, the variety and number of structures (domestic structures, theatres, baths, markets, basilicas, temples) increased, which required urban planning and decision-making on appropriate forms for the function of the structures. Clustering of populations and structures also increased the impact of disasters such as floods and fires. Each of these problems, caused by technology, required solutions by adapting the technology.