Leslie E. Robertson, USA

The Executive Committee of IABSE has conferred the International Award of Merit to Leslie E. Robertson, USA, “for forging the future of structural engineering through inspirational designs which render architectural dreams into reality”.

A global innovator in structural engineering over the past six decades, Leslie E. Robertson’s theories and work on skyscrapers, museums, bridges, and long-span roofs, provide practical technological breakthroughs which transformed architects’ and developers’ dreams into buildable concepts. Visual masterpieces, his designs consistently embody his creative flare for invisible support structures which skillfully meld aesthetic, financial, and social interests. Consider the 492 meter (1,614 foot) Shanghai World Financial Center. On entering the project in a late construction document stage, Leslie Robertson met the developer’s request for a sixteen percent increase in floor space, while accepting foundations for a lower and smaller building, by not only decreasing costly building materials, but enhancing structural reliability and robustness through the incorporation of a diagonally-braced frame with outrigger trusses.

Within the artistry of Robertson’s designs lies a responsible concern for structural safety. Seminal structural engineering safety contributions from his pioneering work with the World Trade Center, New York include the:

• development and implementation of the first use of the boundary layer wind tunnel in  the design of a high-rise building (ca. 1967)
• creation and first use of mechanical damping units to reduce wind-induced swaying  (World Trade Center, New York, ca. 1967)
• first use of prefabricated multiple-column and spandrel-wall panels   (World Trade Center, New York, ca. 1972)
• first use of a space-frame mega-structure and outrigger or hat truss system for a high-rise building (the World Trade Center and the U. S. Steel Tower, ca. 1970)
• and the creation of the shaft-wall partition system now almost universally used   for fire-resistive partitions in high-rise buildings (circa 1968).

But Leslie Robertson’s vanguard responses to structural safety appear also in numerable post-World Trade Center design endeavors. Notable, on completion in 1989, the Bank of China Tower (Hong Kong) held the structural engineering distinction as the world’s first skyscraper with a composite mega-structure space frame to resist all loads imposed by typhoon winds and the weight of the building. Beyond visual beauty, cultural sensitivity and creative technical articulation, Leslie Robertson’s structural designs developed out of a lifelong respect for the environment.

The decision to span the underlying valley without intermediary supports to preserve the forested hills, as well as to use a ceramic in-fill for a stainless steel grating system to prevent the erosion of rainwater in the Miho Museum Bridge, Japan, 1997, exemplify a few of the many environmental considerations woven into his designs.