Jack Christiansen

John V. “Jack” Christiansen, who was a pioneer in concrete thin-shell structures. (Bainbridge Island Review)

John V. “Jack” Christiansen, Concrete Thin-Shell Pioneer, Dies at 89

“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.

Notable projects include:

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.


The Seattle Kingdome, former home of the Seattle Mariners, was designed by Christiansen. (Mother’s Cookies Trading Cards. 1985)