Monday, April 30, 2018
David Billington RIP
I was saddened to learn of the passing of David Billington, engineering professor emeritus at Princeton (story here). David was an outstanding scholar and teacher and a real gentleman. He was best known for his efforts to encourage the infusion of aesthetic sensibility into structural engineering design, which derived from his work on Swiss designers. He hated what he called “GI bridges” and believed that a piece of long-lived infrastructure such as a bridge should reflect and enrich its natural environment and cultural context. If the subject sounds dry, note that David was one of the most popular lecturers at Princeton and presented his views with humor and grace. If you never thought you would enjoy a lecture on bridge design, please take a look at this lecture at MIT (here).
How much influence did David have? Hard to say. There is still a lot of ugly design out there. Thanks to Jack Lettiere, then president of AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials), he gave a lecture at that organization’s 2005 convention, which hopefully started some ripples. And certainly there are some iconic new bridges such as the Swiss-designed Zakim Bridge in Boston, which David references in the MIT lecture. I believe his thinking is still very valuable and I think it will still have an impact well into the future. I know it has influenced me (see poster on my office wall).