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CEE Distinguished Lecture Series Welcomes Bill Baker

Bill Baker, structural engineering partner at architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, will be the inaugural speaker for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Distinguished Lecture Series.

Baker will give a lecture titled, “Theory is Practical: The Philosophy of Design” at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 29 in the ITW room in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center.

Throughout his distinguished career, Baker has dedicated himself to structural innovation. His best known contribution 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 supertall buildings, his expertise also extends to a wide variety of structures like the GM Entry Pavilion and Millennium Park's Jay Pritzker Pavilion and BP Pedestrian Bridge. Baker is also known for his work on long-span roof structures, such as the Korean Air Lines Operations Hangar and the Virginia Beach Convention Center, as well as for his collaboration with artists like Jamie Carpenter (Raspberry Island-Schubert Club Band Shell), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle (Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With), and James Turrell (Roden Crater).

In addition to working at SOM, Bill is actively involved with numerous institutions of higher learning, as well as various professional organizations. He is the recipient of a 2011 ASCE Outstanding Projects And Leaders (OPAL) Lifetime Award for Design. Bill is the 2010 recipient of the Gold Medal from the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) and the 2009 recipient and first American to receive the Fritz Leonhardt Preis (Germany). In 2008, the CTBUH awarded him the Fazlur Rahman Khan medal. Baker is a fellow of both the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the IStructE, and frequently lectures on a variety of structural engineering topics.

In his lecture, Baker will propose a design philosophy to bridge the divide between design and analysis. The founders of modern structural engineering created structures that were inspiring in their form and economical in their execution. While this economy was undoubtedly driven by financial pressures, it was also a result of the ideological purity of the design. At the time, complicated structural designs were simply beyond an engineer’s ability to calculate. However, within the past few years, the explosion of computational power has enabled engineers to design and create structures that are extremely complex and beyond one’s ability to comprehend without the aid of a computer (some are conceptually unfathomable even with a computer). Our modern analytical tools can yield a more efficient structure than one achievable through simpler means, but these same tools can also enable the creation of overly complicated structures that are financially and materially expensive.