Announcing our 2016 Gold Medallist: Robert Halvorson

Robert Halvorson, SE, PE, FASCE, FIStructE, Executive Vice President of Halvorson and Partners, has been named winner of our 2016 Gold Medal.

Bob, as he is known by most, 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 sixty buildings of forty 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.

Bob began his career with Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), serving in their Chicago, Houston, New York, and London offices, becoming the firm's youngest partner at the age of 31. Bob founded Halvorson and Partners in 1996, growing the firm to a staff of nearly seventy professionals within a decade. Under Bob's leadership Halvorson and Partners merged with WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff in 2015.

Bob said of receiving the award:

“To use the British expression, I am gobsmacked! I had no inkling or expectation of this award, and I was in shock for quite a while after being informed. Looking at the eminent past winners of the Gold Medal, I am very thrilled and honoured to be considered worthy. I very much look forward to giving my Gold Medal Address to members of the Institution in the summer.”

Watch Bob's address:


Discover Bob's work:

(L-R) Torre Caja Madrid, Allied Bank Plaza, Hanking Central Tower, World Trade Center

Torre Caja Madrid, Madrid (now Torre Cepsa)

Within a few years of starting his own practice, Bob met Lord Foster of Thames Bank, the founder of Foster + Partners. Their chance meeting sparked an enduring synergistic relationship and countless innovative ideas in tall building design. Torre Caja Madrid was the first of their collaborations to become a reality. This 250-meter office tower has a highly unique structure that readily distinguishes it from any other building in the world. Its distinct form is derived from two external reinforced concrete cores that provide the lateral and vertical support for the entire tower. The creative solution evolved from an iterative architectural/structural design process with the goal to create valuable, unobstructed views and a dramatic, column-free ground floor lobby. The expressed slender cores demonstrate how thin and minimal a structure can be, even one that supports the tallest building in Spain.

Allied Bank Plaza, Houston (now Wells Fargo Plaza)

Early in his career, while a young partner at SOM, Bob became famous in high-rise engineering circles for riding out Hurricane Alicia atop this 71-story office structure. Beyond the obvious ‘cowboy’ aspect of this story (set in Texas none-the-less), there was a pragmatic reason for Bob’s risky adventure. He wanted to know if the assumptions, analyses, and wind tunnel predictions made for the building’s behavior under wind loading—the condition which typically governs tall building designs—were accurate. To answer this question required onsite monitoring of the structure’s performance during a Category Three hurricane…in person. The measurements taken that night were unique, and today still serve to confirm the practice of wind and high-rise engineering around the world.

Hanking Center Tower, Shenzhen

“I was just at Hanking today. Man…you did magic.”

This simple note, which accompanied in-progress constructions photos, was sent to Bob by a project principal of Morphosis, the building’s architecture firm. If not magic, this 350-meter office tower is certainly art. Designing the elegant structure, however, required overcoming some incredible challenges. The core of the building is offset ten meters from the rest of the floor plate. With only narrow walkways to link these pieces together, the two slender towers could not stand on their own. The tower’s faceted shape added more complications. The design required sloping columns at various levels, creating enormous forces that acted to push the tower sideways. The structure for this challenging form also had to resist the typhoon wind loads and high seismic loads of Shenzhen. The solution employed composite box columns to minimize the column profiles. These were linked together by multi-story box-section bracing that extended across the entire building plan and intermittently crossed the ten meter gap, effectively tying the two towers together.

World Trade Center – Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi (formerly Central Market)

In 2015 the Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid Tower, the highest of the World Trade Center’s towers, was named the “Best Tall Building in the Middle East & Africa” by the internationally recognized Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). The Trade Center in its entirety is a 700,000 square meter mixed-use development that replaced the city’s original central souks--markets--in the heart of Abu Dhabi. The 381-meter Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid Tower, designed in collaboration with Foster + Partners, is the 21st tallest building in the world. The Burj Mohammed structure pushed the boundaries for slender tower design with its 13:1 height-to-width ratio and did so without the dampers that such slender tall towers often require. The design team conceived the entire project in a short charette competition. Remarkably, the ideas developed in those first few weeks carried through the next seven years of the project’s construction. 

Watch Bob's 2015 interview with the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Additionally visit to learn more about Halvorson and Partners – a WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Company.
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