Structure & Purpose: The Legacy of Engineering at Keast & Hood

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Excerpts & Reflections


Copyright Š 2020 Keast & Hood Structural Engineers Produced in conjunction with Structure & Purpose: The Legacy of Engineering at Keast & Hood, an exhibition hosted by the Athenaeum of Philadelphia Designed by Izzy Kornblatt Contributions Solicited by Frederick Baumert, Izzy Kornblatt, and Amelia Popovic

All materials published herein remain the copyrighted intellectual property of their respective authors or owners.




Introduction

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tructural engineers Carl A. Baumert, Jr., Nicholas L. Gianopulos, and Thomas J. Leidigh played a crucial role in the design and construction of many of the world’s most important works of modern architecture. Their buildings are now widely known and loved, not just by architects but by the broader public as well. They appear on stamps and postcards, in movies and TV shows, and as the backdrops in hundreds of thousands of Instagram photos. But these engineers themselves rarely if ever receive credit—even in long books about their works, their names rarely appear.

Structure & Purpose corrects the record, demonstrating for the first time the full scope and importance of these engineers’ works. Longtime partners at the firm of Keast & Hood, Baumert, Gianopulos, and Leidigh shouldered the responsibility of the engineer with purpose and humility. Following a plane crash that took the lives of the firm’s previous partners in 1963, the trio of young engineers jointly took the helm and began to chart their own course. In the subsequent decades they built a legacy around ethical purpose—the imperative to make safe, durable, and functional structures on behalf of clients and in the interest of protecting the public. Their mastery and appreciation of structure drew such famed architects as Louis I. Kahn and Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates to collaborate with them repeatedly. And it was genuine collaboration—a back-and-forth of equals that produced designs characterized as much by structural logic as Previous Spread: Louis I. Kahn’s Phillips Exeter Academy Library. (The University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.) Left: The “ghost house” structures at Venturi and Rauch’s Franklin Court. (The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania by the gift of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.)

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architectural flair. These architects engaged Keast & Hood early on in the design process, eschewing the practice of imposing a design regardless of its structural sensibility. The engineers, in turn, worked to understand the architectural vision and offered creative solutions to even the most difficult of problems. Baumert, Gianopulos, and Leidigh’s understanding of architecture, along with their sense of ethical purpose, led clients to entrust them with the repair and restoration of numerous historical landmarks. With a light touch and extensive knowledge of historical building techniques, they worked to ensure that such buildings as Independence Hall and Philadelphia City Hall continue to serve their users long into the future. These engineers never sought credit for themselves, instead preferring to work collaboratively with their associates in the service of producing quality work. They took pride in running a firm that treated its employees with respect—as ends in themselves rather than means for the glorification of senior principals. This generosity, all too rare in the upper echelons of the design world, earned them the trust and affections of their colleagues and collaborators. In preparing Structure & Purpose, I spoke to people who worked with Baumert, Gianopulos, and Leidigh in a variety of capacities and was struck by how many of them spoke of the trio in the same terms: as humble and generous friends, as well as brilliant engineers. We asked several of these former collaborators if we could share their recollections in order to paint a more vivid and personal portrait of the trio than emerges solely from examining their buildings. What follows are the moving and illuminating reflections that those individuals generously prepared for us. These reflections tell a rich and important story that until now has remained unknown to the wider world. —Izzy Kornblatt, Curator 6



Previous Page: An elevation sketch for Venturi and Rauch’s Wislocki House. (The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania by the gift of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.) This Spread: From left to right, Leidigh, Baumert, and Gianopulos atop the William Penn statue at Philadelphia’s City Hall in the mid-1980s. (Collection of Keast & Hood.) Next Page: A young Baumert. (Courtesy of Frederick Baumert.)




Carl A. Baumert, Jr. 1929-2017 Born in Philadelphia, Baumert studied civil engineering at the Drexel Institute of Technology. He served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and in the Korean War before returning to Philadelphia, where he worked briefly for William H. Gravell Associates and helped found Keast & Hood. In 1963, after he had served brief stints at several other local firms, Gianopulos and Leidigh invited him to rejoin Keast & Hood as a partner. He was deeply passionate about historical buildings; among his most notable projects were restorations of Philadelphia’s City Hall and Museum of Art. His ground-up projects include the iconic “ghost house” structures at Venturi and Rauch’s Franklin Court, among many others. He retired from the firm in 2014.

So It Goes

Kathy Babcock

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arl Baumert was many things to many people—a mentor, a collaborator, a practical man with a wry sense of humor, a patriot, a Philadelphian, a keen observer of people who didn’t suffer fools gladly. But for me he was a friend as well as a consultant whose deep laugh I still hear when I encounter something stupefying on a job site. He was a fellow ex-Cynwyder and obsessive who never met a puzzle he didn’t want to solve. Never stop learning, he said more than once, sounding like my father with whom he shared many traits. Carl served in Korea while my father pushed a pencil in Point Barrow, 11


Alaska. Same conflict, different experiences. Both hesitated to discuss it. One thought about engineering but got an MBA instead. The other followed through with engineering. Both came from Philly, raised kids in Bala Cynwyd. Both found comfort in numbers. Both taught me more than they knew. He invited me to a lunch of soup and sandwiches with fellow architect Nan Gutterman, his daughter Andrea, and granddaughter Abby so that she might meet women in a profession dominated by men as she considered degrees to pursue in college. I hope Carl understood how much it meant to be included. Some buildings we worked on together: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Liberty Title, Robeson House. One of my favorite moments: assessing the marble at Girard College’s Founders Hall from a high reach, while the graduating class and their families strolled among flowering trees below. Looking down on the city from rooftops that formed their own tableau, Carl would point out all the buildings he had worked on during his career. I told him one day I was going to write a book about all those buildings and include lots of pictures. He snorted. We rode a scissors lift 30-plus feet at the Free Library Central to study a plaster ceiling leak only to have it stop in mid-air, swaying like a pendulum, my vertigo forcing me to climb onto a nearby balcony. When it turned out the lift failed due to a plug that came out of the wall, he shrugged nonchalantly and patted my arm. All in a day’s work. He offered advice for reframing some joists in my house while we rode the bus back from Perelman where we had just observed a borescope investigation to identify the source of moisture in the terra cotta roof cresting. He told me I was lucky to have such thick joists and that they didn’t build them like that anymore. I told him cutting them was a pain. 12


He said, “and so it goes.� His quiet sympathy when my father was diagnosed with dementia and his heartfelt consolation when he passed. And so it goes, indeed.

Every Nook and Cranny Robert Glick

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had the pleasure to work with Carl for 15-plus years. We worked on a number of projects together and I learned so much from him. The 10 years we worked on the City Hall Envelope Restoration were the most rewarding. 13


His knowledge of City Hall was profound. From the basement walls below the tower to the pulvinated dome serving as the roof of the observation level below Billy Penn’s feet, Carl knew every nook and cranny of that building. The City Hall data stored in his mind was staggering. I spent a lot of time surveying the building from a high reach, listening to Carl recount snippets of the buildings’ trivia. During construction we would encounter unforeseen conditions and Carl would come up with solutions that appeared effortless. Carl shared a lot of interesting stories, from blowing up bridges during the Korean War to assisting Mr. Venturi during his MoMA exhibition. Working together on City Hall provided many interesting challenges. One of the most challenging was replacing the damaged column capitols on the south center pavilion. This kept Carl occupied for a few sleepless nights, resulting in a practical and elegant solution. The deteriorated stone was chiseled down to Carl’s precise calculations of how much ‘meat’ needed to remain to support the tremendous weight above. Of my fond exchanges with Carl, when asking how long he thought a specific repair will last, he would reply, “What do I care? I won’t be around.”

Previous Page: Baumert at work on Philadelphia City Hall in 1999, photographed by Nan Gutterman. (Collection of Keast & Hood.) Right: Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown’s Freedom Plaza under construction. (The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania by the gift of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.) Next Spread: The restoration of Philadelphia City Hall in progress, photographed by Jeffrey Totaro. (Collection of Keast & Hood.)

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Nicholas L. Gianopulos 1924-2018 Gianopulos was born in Philipsburg, PA. After serving in World War II and attending the Pennsylvania State University on a G.I. Bill scholarship, he moved to Philadelphia to work for the engineer William H. Gravell. He helped found Keast & Hood in 1953, soon afterward developing close professional relationships with Louis I. Kahn and a young Robert Venturi. Later in his career he shifted his focus to historical restorations, including several at Independence National Historical Park. His gregarious personality led him to become the face of the firm and a favorite of students at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught from 1966 to 1991. He retired from Keast & Hood in 2009.

Real Straightforward Architecture Denise Scott Brown

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eal straightforward architecture!”This was the first thing I heard Nick say. Bob, John Rauch and I were collaborating on a competition for a fountain in Love Park and we had placed it high above the ground in a bowl shaped like a wine goblet with a tall stem. The reason was simple: a very big fountain, scaled to be read from the museum beyond the Parkway but standing in a pedestrian park, it was not like the Swiss jet d’eau in the middle of Lac Léman. People would get soaked in even a small breeze. So it needed to be placed in a room or high above the ground—a truly selfcontradictory demand. Left: Gianopulos atop the steeple at Christ Church. (Collection of Keast & Hood.) Page 21: Gianopulos with his camera during his travels. (Collection of Keast & Hood.)

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Eventually we removed the stem and turned the goblet upside down, allowing the jet to spray up through the roof, and slide down the sides forming a sheen. From the museum it looked like an old acorn glistening in the rain. But during the process, I learned why Bob had chosen to work with this young engineer. Nick was sympathetic indeed, with Bob’s ideas, even the non-straightforward ones. So when he said something really would not work, Bob, and I, believed him and knew his objection was not because he disliked its looks. Although the resident guru for structures was Robert Le Ricolais, Nick frequented Penn to teach, and they both were extremely important in the school. In our office, Nick’s influence was visible early. In designing the Vanna Venturi House, Bob learned via the multiple versions he studied over the years. And in the built, “street-through-the-building” design, the structure called for a whiz of an engineer. Nick produced, among other things, a lally column. Standing in one corner, it supported one end of a beam spanning the length of the living space, and was seen against the partial ceiling vault that adjoined it. At that difficult meeting, the slender column and curvaceous ceiling convey a lovely feeling of early Le Corbusier—it’s a skillful and enhancing solution to a complex problem. Our firm looked to Keast & Hood for structural suggestions for improving usable-to-unusable space ratios, allowing rooms to be bigger or more freely planned and unusual for an apartment building like our Guild House. This was the norm of our collaboration. But there was also unalloyed faithfulness. When our show at the Whitney Museum opened with a Victorian version of a Grecian lady out on the tip of the cantilever at the building entrance, Bob awakened at 2 AM with a nightmare. What, he asked, would happen if it had not been properly affixed to the cantilever? Could it blow off and who would it hurt? Nothing would prevail but that I call Nick, which I did at 4:30 AM. By 7 AM, Nick had Carl Baumert at the 20




Whitney and he had called us to say he had checked all the attachments and the whole design, and that everything was safe—we could go back to sleep. I know this story of empathy and loyalty is legendary at Keast & Hood too. So we were family, architecturally, but there were further dimensions. Nick helped Bob with his house and we helped Nick and Nettie with theirs, suggesting how it could be made to suit their family. And a family friendship had formed around Christmas. In the Greek tradition, Nick celebrated his name day rather than his birthday, and that was Christmas Day. We were included, and partook joyfully in homemade Greek food and heard Greek spoken without English accents. The parties filled a lack Bob and I shared. Members of his Italian family were few in America, and my Jewish family was in Africa. We missed them—lively old great aunts with black dresses, gray hair and admonishing forefingers. Well Nick and Nettie had theirs, still alive, still at parties. Our five-year-old loved to thumb his nose at them, and they loved to act horrified. This pantomime went on a few brief years, as the old ladies lining the living room wall feigned Victorian shock, our gesticulating child had the experience of elderly aunties as they were in our lives. Bob and I gave thanks for the sharing at so many levels that accompanied our lives and those of Vanna and Jim. My words here come from all of us, with very much love.

Left: Structural drawings and as-built photographs for Peter McCleary’s Goldie Paley Bridge at the University of Pennsylvania. (Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania.) Next Spread: John Milner’s reconstructed Market Street houses at Venturi and Rauch’s Franklin Court. (Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania by the gift of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.) Page 26: A young Leidigh. (Courtesy of Rick Leidigh.)

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Thomas J. Leidigh 1924-2019 Born in Philadelphia, Leidigh served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, he was able to study civil engineering at Drexel and later join Keast & Hood’s predecessor firm in 1951. He helped found Keast & Hood in 1953 and remained at the firm until his retirement in 2007. Known for his quiet demeanor and mathematical ability, he became the go-to engineer for both Kahn and Mitchell/Giurgola Architects, designing the structures for such landmark buildings as the Richards Medical Research Laboratories, Phillips Exeter Academy Library, and Liberty Bell Pavilion. He taught engineering at Temple University from 1975 to 1991.

Learning from Tom Henry N. Wilcots

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om, Nick, and Harry Palmbaum meeting with Lou Kahn—subject being reinforced brick masonry (RBM). Lou was totally against steel within. This discussion went back and forth, finally Tom rose his full height, placed a well worn hat squarely on his head, spoke directly to Lou saying—“call when you’re ready to listen.” He walked away, out the door, leaving Nick and Harry to follow. Lou had listened; he found having the core as designed ‘lattice,’ reflected by the drawings, gave him an integral wall. The Adele Levy Playground project for New York City was running out of 27


time. Tom came in and spoke with David Wisdom—“put someone on this work who’ll treat it seriously—playtime over.” Tom could be very blunt! When drawings were ready, Tom and I went to New York’s Buildings Department offices for the review. The reviewing was ugly! They pounded away, being very critical at our work. I watched Tom, why was he just setting without a word? Then he spoke—preamble to his engineering. With drawings and calcs, he held court for more than 45 minutes—the only voice was his. When Tom finished, the department team thanked him for the wonderful session, saying they don’t see designs and the thinking as our work shows—ink pads with stamping, review over. Bellow: From left to right, colleagues Daniel DiBona, Leidigh, Raymond Hood, Jr., and Gianopulos in the 1950s. (Collection of Keast & Hood.)

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A Tribute to Thomas J. Leidigh Robert D. Lynn

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s a young architect, I had designed a new suburban branch bank, using a solo-practitioner engineer. The design included a very long span supporting masonry above the recessed glass storefront. When the engineer called me to say that he started having second thoughts about the design which was already in construction, I told him he was fired, and notified the general contractor about the engineering concerns and asked him to stop all work. After making a few calls, Tom Leidigh of Keast & Hood was recommended. When I described the situation to him, Tom offered to put aside what he was doing and meet at the site immediately. After assessing conditions, using his now-famous circular slide rule that he carried at all times, he directed that one end of the long-span beam remained fixed and the other remain free in order to slide as temperature dictated. This solution worked so well that it continues to function without any problems more than fifty years later. As RDLA’s healthcare practice grew, Tom continued to provide insightful solutions to ever more complex problems. In one six-level hospital project with different functions on each floor, requiring the relocation of several columns differently on each, Tom was able to provide a design for each condition allowing each department to function as desired.

Tom Leidigh Tom Normile

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hat can you say about Tom Leidigh? That he was a great guy, a brilliant engineer, an innovator and early adopter, disarmingly 29


humble? Nick Gianopulos called Tom the “unsung hero of Keast & Hood.” To me, Tom was all those things and more. Whether the challenge was resurrecting a decaying historic structure or trying to realize an architect’s vision for a sleek new building, Tom had a knack for seeing through the clutter in order to discover simple and effective structural solutions. Still active in an era when the computer was beginning to dominate structural engineering, Tom could usually get to an initial solution using paper and pencil well before an engineer could even finish modeling the problem on the computer. He did so using basic theorems of engineering mechanics paired with his innate understanding of structural behavior. While Tom’s instincts made him an invaluable design partner to architects, these same instincts, combined with his humility, patience and compassion, also made him a transformational mentor. Leading by example and always available to patiently guide, Tom helped many engineers master their own understanding of the basics, hone their analysis skills and develop their own structural instincts. Though already well established in my career before I first worked with Tom, I still learned so much from him both as an engineer and a firm principal. Whether the challenge involved design, client relationships or firm management, emulating Tom’s penchant for calm analysis and reasoned action has never failed me. Tom’s impact on my career was profound. I will forever be grateful for his mentorship and friendship. Right: From left to right, colleagues Frederick Baumert, Carl A. Baumert, Jr., Constantine Doukakis, Leidigh, Thomas Normile, Gianopulos, and Suzanne Pentz in the 2000s.. (Collection of Keast & Hood.)

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Previous Spread: A rendering of the interior of the Liberty Bell Pavilion by architect Romaldo Giurgola. (The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania by the gift of Ehrman B. Mitchell, Romaldo Giurgola and MGA Partners.) Left: Louis I. Kahn’s Eleanor Donnelly Erdman Hall at Bryn Mawr College, photographed by Yaxuan Liu. (Courtesy of the photographer.)

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The Athenaeum of Philadelphia January 9 — March 31, 2020


Articles from Structure & Purpose: The Legacy of Engineering at Keast & Hood

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Excerpts & Reflections