New York — Robert Halvorson, S.E., P.E., F.ASCE, FIStructE, founding principal of Halvorson and Partners, a WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Company based in Chicago, was presented with The Institution of Structural Engineers’ (ISE) 2016 Gold Medal at the organization’s awards dinner in London. The Institution, the world’s largest membership organization dedicated to the art and science of structural engineering, presents the award to recognize individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the profession of structural engineering.

Halvorson is an industry leader in the structural design of high-rise buildings and long-span structures. Over the last four decades he has engineered more than 60 buildings of 40 stories or taller, including Wells Fargo Plaza (formerly Allied Bank Plaza) in Houston, 111 West Wacker in Chicago, Torre Caja Madrid in Madrid, Burj Mohammed bin Rashid Tower in Abu Dhabi, and Hanking Center in Shenzhen.

In his acceptance remarks, Halvorson commented on the current state of the global structural engineering practice. “There are great divides in our engineering practice between the theoretical and the practical, and between our understanding of the behavior of individual structural elements and the completed whole,” he noted. “We have a lot of knowledge and test data about individual elements – things of a size that can fit into testing machines – but a lot less knowledge about the behavior of entire structures.

“Unfortunately, to practice at a high level requires having clients who are interested in developing projects with unique designs, and being in a position of responsibility for the structural design,” he added. “These things don’t happen by chance, but require many years of learning, developing trusted contacts, developing a group of satisfied clients, and working one’s way into a position of trust and responsibility.”

Halvorson went on to describe the collaborative process as he sees it, an essential element of structural design for modern buildings. “The collaborative process with experts in other disciplines is the most enjoyable and creative part of the design process – the time when the final design is not yet formed and designers from all disciplines can toss out ideas with everyone reacting to and building on the others’ ideas,” he stated. “Sometimes a design team winds up with a camel and not the thoroughbred horse that they were after, and has to start again, but sometimes the end result is new, unique and sublime. In this process, to be effective, the structural engineer must be prepared to go beyond his or her sense of comfort in proposing previously proven solutions – but rather be comfortable proposing new ideas relying on his or her intuition”

Addressing some of the factors that influence great building design, he concluded: “The best, most elegant and most interesting buildings that I have been involved with resulted not from the designers having complete freedom – a large site, an unlimited budget, no program and no zoning restrictions – but rather from having a seemingly impossible constraint on the design. Some of these constraints have been external to the design process, like too small a site, or an unlikely mix of building uses, or trains running below the building, but some have been created within the design process.”

Halvorson and Partners joined WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff in September 2015. The firm’s buildings practice is a premier provider of structural and MEP engineering, along with a host of related specialty services, operating from 20 locations nationwide. Together, the firms’ esteemed list of projects includes One World Trade Center and 432 Park in New York; the Shard in London; and OneEleven in Chicago.