William F. Baker, USA

The International Award of Merit in Structural Engineering of IABSE is awarded to William F. Baker, USA, Structural Engineering Partner for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP. “for extending the profession of structural engineering with his ability to create clear solutions to complex engineering problems in structural systems for super tall buildings, long-span roofs and speciality structures”. This award is conferred by IABSE for outstanding contributions in the field of structural engineering, with special reference to their usefulness to society.

Bill was greatly influenced by one of his professors, Narby Khachaturian, during his graduate studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. One of Professor Khachaturian’s phrases was “theory is practical,” and Bill has used theory and structural principles as the basis for designs. He tries to develop structural systems that are based upon a clear idea, an idea that can be simply stated, perhaps with ideas so concise that they can be described with a noun plus an adjective. He also tries to always think about construction processes and have at least one idea about how a structure might be built. He seeks simple and clear solutions to the very complex problems that SOM works on, and aims to design structures that speak to the following values: Efficiency; Simplicity; Economy, Elegance, Utility, Harmony; Order and Hierarchy; Clarity; Proportion, Appropriateness and Rational Design.

One of his best-known contributions has been to develop the “buttressed core” structural system for the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest manmade structure. While widely regarded for his work on super tall buildings, his expertise also extends to long-span roof structures, such as the Korean Air Lines Operations Hangar and the Virginia Beach Convention Center, as well as specialty structures like Broadgate Exchange House and the GM Renaissance Center-North Lobby. Bill Baker has also collaborated with numerous artists, including Jamie Carpenter (Raspberry Island-Schubert Club Band Shell), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle (Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With), James Turrell (Roden Crater), and Jaume Plensa (World Voices).

Bill is actively involved with numerous professional organisations and institutions of higher learning. His many accolades include receiving an honorary doctorate in engineering from the University of Stuttgart; an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh; an ASCE Outstanding Projects and Leaders (OPAL) Lifetime Award for Design; and the Fazlur Rahman Khan medal from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). Bill was also the first American to receive the Fritz Leonhardt Preis (Germany) and is one of only three living Americans to receive the Gold Medal from the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE). He is a Fellow of both the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the IStructE, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Bill frequently lectures on a variety of structural engineering topics within the U.S. and abroad.