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The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy

09/17/2004 6:00 PM 10-250
David P. Billington, Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor of Engineering; Princeton University;

Description: Bridges serve a utilitarian purpose, but they should also please the eye. David P. Billington celebrates an influential group of Swiss structural engineers who forged a tradition of bridge-building in the 20th century that united form and function with unprecedented grace. His lecture describes the offerings of an exhibit at the MIT Museum that showcases the works of Robert Maillart (1872-1940), Othmar Ammann (1879-1965), Heinz Isler (b. 1926), and Christian Menn (b. 1927). These architects, inspired by masterful teachers of the Zurich Federal Institute of Technology, first honed their exacting designs in the rugged mountains of Switzerland, and then branched out to the rest of the world. Billington describes Maillart's iconic, 1930 Salginatobel Bridge, high in the Alps, which improves on old Roman bridge designs using a 3-hinged arch and reinforced concrete. He toasts Ammann's Verrazzano Narrows and George Washington Bridges as well as Menn's very recent Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston, the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world. Billington believes these are structures that will "outlast all our lives, enrich the environment and not desecrate it."

About the Speaker(s): David P. Billington has written several books on Robert Maillart's work as well as on other aspects of structural engineering. Billington was a Fulbright Fellow, and won the 1992 George Winter Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers. He has consulted for the State of Maryland on bridge design and for the State of New Jersey on highway accidents. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineering, among other professional affiliations. He has taught at Princeton since 1960.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Museum

Tape #: T18957

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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