“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” -Sir Isaac Newton
On Aug. 16, 2017, the world of engineering lost a giant in thin-shell concrete building design: John V. “Jack” Christiansen— just a month before his 90th birthday. Christiansen worked for more than 60 years as a civil engineer, designing and engineering some of America’s most recognized structures, like the Seattle Kingdome. His prolific work with thin-shell concrete changed the face of the Pacific Northwest and influences concrete design today.
Christiansen earned a bachelor’s degree in Architectural Engineering from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1949 and an master’s in Civil Engineering from Northwestern University in 1950. He worked for several engineering firms before joining Skilling & Helle where he eventually became president. During his life, Christiansen was credited with being one of the top six thin-shell concrete designers in the world.
- The United States Science Pavilion (Pacific Science Center) for the 1962 World’s Fair
- Seattle First National Bank Building
- Rainier Bank Tower
- Safeco Office Tower
- King County Jail
- Museum of Flight
- Nalley Valley Viaduct (demolished in 2012)
- Washington State Convention and Trade Center
- Kingdome (demolished in 2014) The largest clear span concrete dome in the world at 661 feet and site of the first Structural Engineers’ World Congress in 1998
- New York City’s World Trade Center structure (destroyed 9/11/2001)
- Green Lake Pool in Seattle -The world’s largest intermediate thin-shell cylindrical barrel at time of construction
- Yakima Valley Jr. High School Gymnasium -first thin-shell pre-stressed edge beams in U.S.
- King County Airport Hangar at Boeing Field
- Rivergate Exhibit Facility in New Orleans -recognized for design
- Federal Building for Expo ‘74 in Spokane
- SunDome Arena in Yakima
To read more in-depth of Jack Christiansen’s thin-shells, click here
According to the Bainbridge Island Review, Christiansen often spoke of his love for structural engineering. “Being an engineer was a lot of fun because of the finished product. A building is a great big thing, and you can see it, and touch it. It’s like you are creating sculpture on a grand scale.”
The Structural Engineers Foundation of Washington interviewed nine of the structural engineers of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, including Jack Christiansen. Christiansen notes during the interview that if you look at the fair buildings now, “They are in remarkably good condition. Keep in mind they are very thin sections— three inches thick. And you’d be hard pressed to find a crack in there.” You can watch the video in its entirety here.
Along with many other awards and accolades, in 2016, the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures awarded Christiansen the Eduardo Torroja Medal. The IASS awards the medal from time to time in “recognition of outstanding and distinguished contributions to design, construction or research of shell and/or spatial structures.” It is the highest individual recognition given by the Association.
We honor Jack Christiansen, a concrete thin-shell pioneering giant, and we extend our deepest condolences to the Christiansen family.