David H. Geiger was a multitalented engineer and domed stadium revolutionary.

Geiger was born in Philadelphia in 1935. He had two brothers, Linwood and Joseph. He received a bachelor’s degree from Drexel, a master’s from the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate in civil engineering from Columbia University.

While working on his thesis, Geiger became acquainted with Horst Berger at Severud Associates. Geiger worked under Horst for almost a year before returning to Columbia University for his doctorate and a teaching position. In 1968, while an adjunct professor at Columbia, Geiger became a part of the Davis Brody team that had won a design competition for the U.S. Pavilion at Expo 70, the Osaka World Fair in Japan. The design was a 30-story air-supported fabric structure resembling a pumpkin. He needed to find an experienced partner to carry out the project and he asked Horst to join him.

Geiger began designing a structure that could resist Japan’s earthquakes and typhoons, but when Congress approved only half of the expected budget, Geiger had to make some adjustments. He cut the proposed height drastically and created a system of fans to hold up the fabric roof by boosting air pressure inside. Geiger found that a standard grid, with cables crossing at right angles, caused the roof to sag at the perimeter, so he decided to run the cables diagonally, a characteristic that now is present in almost all similar roofs. Geiger’s fabric air-supported roof invention was significantly cheaper than other fixed dome structures.

He then joined with engineer Horst Berger to form Geiger Berger Associates and they went on to produce designs for a number of air-supported structures. The team provided a winning combination, the design capabilities and connections of Horst Berger added to Geiger’s talented engineering capabilities, salesmanship and self-promotion skills.

Software engineer
Geiger and Berger developed a system for designing fabric tensile structures and even developed a form-finding computer program. Though computers were not in mainstream use, the program could define the shape of the structure and also produce precise cutting patterns for the fabric.

Paul Gossen began working with Geiger in 1970 and today still works for Geiger Engineers, Geiger’s last venture.

“In the ’70s computers were not that sophisticated, they still used punch cards and stuff like that,” Gossen says. “We did not have in-house computers. David and I often went in the middle of night to Data Processing at 6th Avenue, otherwise we wouldn’t have time to do it because the programs were so large. Geiger developed his own programs. There were not many programs available… We still have (the programs) in house and use it.”

Though Geiger was adept at developing technologies, Gossen says he often said, “What looks good is good,” meaning that he often looked at nature for inspiration and worked on intuition, later proving mathematically that his designs worked.

“Intuition tells you much more than just formulas,” Gossen says.

Integrated design
Another strength Geiger possessed was the ability to “pull it all together,” Gossen says. Geiger could not only have an idea or a design but could also merge the materials, the software and the analytical tools.

“He was not only very good analytically; he was also a hands-on guy. (Geiger) did a lot of work on his own house. He went out into the field and had good ideas of how to put things together. A lot of engineers design something but don’t think about how to put it together,” Gossen says.

“He was interested in a lot of things,” he says. “When you look at these air-inflated structures, he created an electrical and mechanical branch in the company. The mechanical system becomes a structural system, it relies on that for its survival. (Geiger) put it all together so he could deliver the whole system.”

Signature projects
In 1975, the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., was constructed from Geiger Berger’s design, using helicopters to string the cables for the roof. Geiger went on to design The Stephen C. O’Connell Center (The O’Dome) in Gainesville, Fla., in 1980.

Other notable structures of Geiger’s include the 1982 Metrodome in Minneapolis, which has a fiberglass fabric roof self-supported by air pressure, the second major sports facility to have this feature (the first being the Pontiac Silverdome). Similar in design to the Metrodome is Geiger’s other design, BC Place constructed in 1983 in Vancouver, Canada. Also in 1983, The Lindsay Park Sports Centre (Calgary, Alberta) was constructed for the Western Canada Summer Games. The structure has a white inverted V-shaped roof, a steel arch spine and a concrete perimeter. The skin of the roof is a Teflon-coated fiberglass that achieves 4 percent transparency, reducing the need for artificial light. Geiger also designed the RCA dome, the Tokyo Dome, the Redbird Arena and Tropicana Field.

The partnership with Berger dissolved in 1983 and Geiger formed Geiger Associates, which was acquired by KKBN in 1986. In 1988, Geiger, in partnership with former colleagues from Geiger Associates, went on to found Geiger Engineers.

Geiger was tasked with designing the Weightlifting, Gymnastic and Fencing stadiums at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. These roof structures, also known as “tensegrity domes,” were the first of their kind ever realized. “Tensegrity” domes, meaning tensional integrity, were inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s work. Geiger’s cable dome achieved its span by means of continuous tension cables and discontinuous compression posts. Loads are carried from a central tension ring through a series of radial ridge cables, tension hoops, and intermediate diagonals until they are resolved in a perimeter compression ring. The membrane that covered the dome was comprised of four independent layers: a high-strength fiberglass fabric with a silicone coating on both sides, an 8-inch insulating layer of fine, silky fiberglass enclosed in polyester bags, a Mylar vapor barrier and, two feet below the Mylar, a silicone coated acoustic liner made with an open-weave, fiberglass fabric. The dome has good insulating properties and a 6 percent transparency, which is adequate for most daytime light needs.

Geiger died on Oct. 3, 1989 from cardiac arrest at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul, South Korea, where he was traveling for business. He was 54 years old.

Geiger was survived by his wife, the former Gloria Bohm, and three daughters, Linda, Kristina and Karma.

Geiger published numerous papers, received multiple patents and many awards. In 1986, Geiger was honored for his lifetime work by the American Institute of Architects, and he received an award for innovation from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1983. He was also a former president of the New York Habitat for Humanity.

Christina M. Zweig is a contributing editor. She can be contacted at christinaz@zweigwhite.com.