15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of

Skyscraper engineers throughout time have literally changed the way our cities look forever, a trend unlikely to end anytime soon.

From Fazlur Khan to Elisha Otis, engineers play a vital role in the design and construction of the world's skyscrapers. The following 15 skyscraper engineers are some of the most important and influential of all time. Their contributions range from the development of earthquake resistant building techniques to the all-encompassing works of the great Fazlur Khan.

The following are far from exhaustive and in no particular order but the first entry should be self-explanatory, enjoy.

1. Fazlur Khan

First and foremost one of the world's most important of all skyscraper engineers, Fazlur Khan. Fazlur was a Bangladeshi-American born structural engineer and architect who is famed for making some very important advancements in skyscraper engineering. He has long been considered the father of tubular designs for high-rise buildings. He also, in no small part, helped pioneer computer-aided design or CAD. Khan also designed the world's tallest building up until 1998, The Willis Tower. He also designed the 100-story John Hancock Center.

His innovations in skyscraper engineering were to redesign high-rise building by placing the structural support on the exterior frame rather than central supports. This innovative use of vertical tubing would protect against structural damage from high winds whilst simultaneously freeing up space on the interior. 

Fazlur was born in Dacca, India, now Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 1929 and he would go on to earn a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering from the University of Dacca in 1950. He would later earn a scholarship for the U.S. in 1952 where he would study and earn two Master's Degree's in Applied Mechanics and Structural Engineering. He also completed a Ph.D. in Structural Engineering.

15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
Fazlur Khan. Source: Yasmin Sabina Khan / Facebook

2. Nabih Youssef

Nabih Youssef is an Egyptian-American structural engineer who is famed for his work in earthquake engineering. He received his B.S. in Structural Engineering from Cairo University in 1967. He later emigrated to the United States where he received M.S. from C.S.U.-L.A. He then gained a postgraduate Diploma in Earthquake Engineering from U.C.L.A. Youssef then led the engineering division at A.C. Martin Partners before he founded his own company, Nabih Youssef and Associates in 1989.

Nabih's contributions to skyscraper engineering include the pioneering use of base isolation to seismically protect structures. He has also lectured at the USC School of Architecture. Nabih has since been involved in various industry and governmental panels. Notable examples include 

  • Congressional Office of Technology Assessment advisory panel member
  • Chair of the Vision 2000 Committee and the Seismology Committee of the Structural Engineers Association of California.
  • Chair of Project Restore, a non-profit organization dedicated to the historic restoration and revitalization of historic facilities in Los Angeles.
15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
Nabih Youssef. Source: Gary Leonard/ladowntownnews

3. Lynn S. Beedle

Lynn S. Beedle was an American structural engineer famed for his design and construction of skyscrapers. Lynn was the founder and director of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. He was described in his lifetime as "an expert on tall buildings" by the New York Times. He is also credited with thrusting Lehigh University as a center for research on civil and structural engineering. 

Lynn received many awards throughout his lifetime from bodies the likes of the National Academy of Engineering to the American Society of Civil Engineers for his groundbreaking studies on the properties of steel structures.

Lynn was born in Orland, California in 1917 and he would graduate from the University of California Berkeley with a B.S.c degree in engineering. He later joined the U.S. Navy. He received his P.h.D in Structural Engineering from Lehigh University whilst working there for 5 years as an instructor. When notable engineer Fazlur Khan died of a heart attack in 1982, Beedle organized the establishment of the Fazlur Rahman Khan Chair at Lehigh University. 

15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
Lynn. S. Beedle Source: NAP

4. Pier Luigi Nervi

Pier Luigi Nervi was born in 1891 and was to become one of the world's most famous skyscraper engineers. He studied at the University of Bologna where he graduated in 1913. He would later teach as a professor of engineering at Rome University between 1946 and 1961. Pier would go on to become known worldwide as a structural engineer and architect who would make innovative use of reinforced concrete.

During the 1940's Pier developed ideas for reinforced concrete that would ultimately help rebuild many of the buildings and factories that were destroyed during WW2. Although most of his work was isolated to Italy he did perform a number of international projects. His first stateside one being the George Washington Bridge Bus Station. 

Some of his notable works include, but are not limited to:-

  • UNESCO HQ, Paris
  • The Pirelli Tower, Milan
  • The Tour de la Bourse, Montreal
  • Norfolk Scope, Virginia
  • Sacro Cuore Bell Tower, Florence
15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
Pier Luigi Nervi. Source: Cavarrone /Wikimedia Commons

5. Eugène Freyssinet

Eugène Freyssinet was a French structural and civil engineer whose major contribution to skyscraper engineering was the development of prestressed concrete. He was born in Objat, France in 1879 and worked at École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris, France. Here he designed several bridges until the First World War broke out.

Although Eugene worked tirelessly to promote and develop prestressed concrete he was not actually the inventor of the technique. Other engineers of the time had patented methods for prestressing as early as 1888. His contribution to the subject was his recognition that only high-strength prestressing wire could counteract the effects of creep and relaxation. He also developed anchorages and other technology that made the system flexible so it could be applied to many different structures.

He was appreciated in his own time. According to Leonardo Troyano, "his capacity for creation, invention, and research and his non-conformity with existing ideas and doctrines made him one of the most notable engineers in the history of engineering".

6. William Frazier Baker

William Frazier Baker, aka Bill Baker, is an American structural engineer best known for his engineering work on the Burj Khalifa. This skyscraper is currently the world's tallest man-made structure and a true feat of engineering. e is currently a structural engineering partner in the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP.

He was born in Fulton, Missouri in 1953 and would go on to obtain a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Missouri. Wilem would later acquire an M.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois. He is widely recognized for his work on supertall buildings. 

His work on the Burj Khalifa required him to develop the "buttressed core" structural system. This design enabled the tower to reach its record heights whilst retaining the necessary strength to stay erect. This system consists of a hexagonal core reinforced by three buttresses that form a Y-shape. This setup lets the system support itself both laterally and torsionally. 

15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
William Frazier Baker. Source: SOM/Wikimedia Commons

7. Ysrael Seinuk

Ysrael Seinuk was a Cuban engineer who designed the structure of many landmark skyscrapers in New York and across the globe. He also lectured in structural engineering at New York's Cooper Union. Some of his more famous works include the Lipstick Building the Mercantile Exchange in New York as well as the 48-story Condé Nast Building, the 45-story Bear Stearns Building, and the Arthur Ashe Stadium. He also worked on a number of skyscrapers like the Trump World Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower and 58-Story Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, New York.

Ysrael was born in 1931 in Havanna, Cuba. He studied at the University of Havanna and graduated in 1954. Seinuk swiftly escaped Cuba to the U.S. once Fidel Castro's communist regime rose to power. Seinuk recalled that he arrived in the United States with little more than $20 in his pocket, "my slide rule and my diploma from the University of Havana."

He is recognized as one of the world's foremost experts in the structural design of skyscrapers. Ysrael is credited with innovations in the use of reinforced concrete as a structural material in skyscrapers.

8. Elisha Otis

Elisha Otis was an America industrialist and inventor and founder of the Otis Elevator Company. He is most famous for his invention of a safety device that prevented elevators from falling if the hoisting cable were to fail. His contributions to skyscraper engineering are arguably huge. The invention of safe elevators is in effect a pre-requisite for building any of the modern skyscrapers we see today.

Otis was born in Halifax, Vermont in August of 1811. He left home at the age of 19 and eventually settled in Troy, New York. After working for many years as a skilled craftsman making toys he eventually moved to Bergen City, New Jersey and then back to Yonkers, New York where he worked as a manager for an abandoned sawmill. It was his task to convert it into a working bedstead factory. Whilst cleaning up the abandoned factory he wondered how he could quickly and efficiently move debris to upper levels. Although hoisting platforms existed they were unsafe and unreliable. He and his sons designed and built their own safety elevator which was successfully tested.

They would later show off their design at the 1853 World's Fair to much amazement. Otis's newly formed company quickly received continuous orders and are they are to this day the go-to experts for elevators.

9. Leslie E. Robertson

Leslie Earl Robertson was an American engineer who was the lead structural engineer during the construction of the Twin Towers of the original World Trade Center. He has since been involved in various other projects around the world including Shanghai World Financial Center and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong.

Leslie graduated from the Berkeley School of Civil Engineering with a B.S. in 1952. He was quickly recognized as an up and coming engineer and he was selected by Worthing Skilling, Helle and Jackson (WSHJ) to participate in the design of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. Robertson was responsible for the buildings' sway-reduction features. 

He was made a partner of WSHJ in 1967 until the firm split in 1982 when he formed the Leslie E Robertson Associates. Since the untimely demise of the Twin Towers debate about the safety of the rent-space-maximized design has engaged the profession. Most do, however, agree that the design allowed for the buildings to stand long enough for many thousands to evacuate safely. 

10. Maurice Koechlin

Maurice Koechlin was a french-swiss structural engineer who, in no small part, was responsible for the design and construction of the Eiffel Tower. He was born into the renowned Koechlin family in 1856. Maurice would later study at the Lycee in Mulhouse and then civil engineering at the Polytechnikum Zurich between 1873 and 1877. 

Maurice is most known for his work under Gustave Eiffel at his company "Compagnie des établissements Eiffel". He joined them in 1879 and he would later become the Managing Director of the company when Eiffel retired in 1893. Maurice Koechlin died in 1946 in Veytaux, Switzerland in a house built by himself in 1900.

Although the Eiffel Tower bear Gustave Eiffel's name the structural concept and form was actually the brainchild of Maurice Koechlin. He was known in his day to be an engineer of outstanding ingenuity who was well versed in the structural techniques of the time. He possessed, therefore, the best qualifications for evolving such technically innovative conceptions for which Eiffel and his firm were renowned.

15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
Maurice Koechlin's initial design for the Eiffel Tower. Source: Lionelr/Wikimedia Commons

11. Fritz Leonhardt

Fritz Leonhardt was a German structural engineer famed for making major contributions to 20th Century bridge engineering, especially cable-stayed bridges. But he is also renowned for his work on the Stuttgart Television Tower. This was the world's first ever telecommunications tower built exclusively from reinforced concrete. It would become the prototype for many similar towers around the world. 

Fritz was born in Stuttgart in 1909 and would go on to study at Stuttgart University and Purdue University. In 1954 he formed the consulting firm Leonhardt und Andrä, and from 1958 to 1974 taught the design of reinforced concrete and prestressed concrete at Stuttgart University. He was President of the University from 1967 to 1969.

The Stuttgart TV Tower though groundbreaking in its day was highly controversial at the time. Despite this, it has since become a well-known landmark in Stuttgart and a major tourist attraction. Originally critics were concerned about the cost of the tower. A simple 200-meter antenna could be erected for 200,000 DM. The tower's construction began in 1954 and was completed within 20 months costing a total of 4.2 million DM. This amount was recouped within 5 years from tourist revenues alone.

15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
Fritz Leonhardt' Stuttgart TV Tower. Source: Taxiarchos228/Wikimedia Commons

12. Wilem Frischmann

Wilem was born in 1931 in Ungvar, Czechoslovakia what is now known as Uzhhorod, Ukraine. After surviving the Holocuast he was moved to England as a refugee at the tender age of 15. Wilem attended the Hammersmith College of Art and Building and later attended the Imperial College, London. He later obtained a P.h.D from the City University of London. Wilem joined C. F. Pell and Partners in 1958 and became a partner in 1961, later Chairman in 1968. He stepped down from this position in 2015 to take an advisory role to the new incoming chairman Jurgen Wild.

One of his most famed works is Tower 42 in London. This is the third tallest skyscraper in the city and was originally called the National Westminster Tower, or NatWest Tower. The tower is actually hexagonal in the arrangement when seen from above but this is not obvious from ground level. Tower 42 was actually the first skyscraper in the City of London when it was built. This was a major media coup for the first tenants, NatWest bank.

Despite this, its construction was actually highly controversial as its design was a major departure from the previous height restrictions for new builds in the city. The tower also has some innovative designs included double-decker elevators as well as internally automated mail trains for mail deliveries it also has an automated external window washing system, and computer-controlled air conditioning.

15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
Tower 42, London. Source: Colin/Wikimedia Commons

13. John Blume

John Blume was an American structural engineer who earned the title of "Father of Earthquake Engineering". His career included major contributions to dynamic theory, soil structure interactions, and inelastic behavior of structures. He was born in 1909 in Gonzales, California. 

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Blume decided to study earthquake engineering after he witnessed the appalling devastation caused by the Santa Barbara earthquake in 1925. Although casualties were low at just 13 most of the commercial buildings had been badly damaged or destroyed and the Sheffield Dam had also collapsed inundated some of the city with water. “I made a vow, then and there,” Blume would later remember, “that someday I would do something about it.”

Four years later he enrolled at Standford University, later graduating with a degree in engineering as well as a doctorate. Whilst at the University he would create his own study plan taking a mixture of course in geology, architecture, and mathematics. Blume would later co-author the paper “The Reconciliation of the Computed and Observed Periods of Vibration of a Fifteen-Story Building,” was a pioneering analysis of the dynamic response of high-rise buildings. He would continue working on this concept and push for its inclusion in building codes and engineering practices for the next 50 years. 

15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
John Blume. Source: standford.edu

14. Oscar Faber

Faber was born in London in 1886 to the Danish Commissioner of Agriculture in London. After being awarded an OBE in 1918 for his work on non-magnetic mine casings he set up his own consulting firm in 1921 at the age of 35. This firm later grew to become Oscar Faber and Partners. He would later co-author the book Reinforced Concrete Design, with P.G. Bowie, which became a standard work. 

Faber would go on to be president of the Institution of Structural Engineers and later had an award named after him the Oscar Faber Medal. This was actually present to Fazlur Khan in 1973. Faber's company Oscar Faber & Partners eventually merged with G Maunsell & Partners to become Faber Maunsell. In 2009, Faber Maunsell was rebranded AECOM.

15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
Source: engineering-timelines

15. Eli Cohen

Eli Cohen was a structural engineer who helped forge the Chicago skyline and founded the consulting firm that would become the Thornton Tomasetti Chicago office. He is best known for his refinement of composite steel highrises with reinforced concrete cores. His firm, Cohen-Barreto-Marchertas (CBM), served as structural engineer for more than 350 projects and more than 70 high-rise buildings.

Eli was born in Germany in 1927 and his family fled to Palestine in 1935 when the Nazi party came to power. After fighting for Israeli independence in 1948 he moved to the U.S. in 1953 where he received his civil engineering degree from the University of Illinois.  He joined Paul Rogers Associates, a structural engineering firm in Chicago, became a partner in 1965, then president and principal of CBM in 1969. This firm would pioneer the use of composite steel structural systems allowing 50 + story buildings to become more feasible. 

15 Genius Skyscraper Engineers You've Probably Never Heard Of
Eli Cohen. Source: CWJE/Wikimedia Commons

So there you go 15 of the most important skyscraper engineers of all time. Have we missed any major names? Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below.