Department of

Civil and Environmental Engineering



Kavanagh Lecture - Biographical Sketch

The Eighteenth Thomas C. Kavanagh Memorial Structural Engineering Lecture

April 7, 2011

7:30 pm

122 Alumni Hall, HUB-Robeson Center

Burja Khalifa: A New Paradigm


William F. Baker
Structural Engineering Partner for
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP


William F. Baker is the Structural Engineering Partner for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP. Since joining the firm in 1981, Bill’s scope of engineering projects has extended from designing structural systems for supertall buildings, to smaller, specialized structures. He was elected an SOM partner in 1996.

Throughout his distinguished career, Bill has dedicated himself to structural innovation-- most notably in the design of tall buildings. In 1999, his next-generation, stayed-mast structural system for the proposed 7 South Dearborn, an unrealized 2,000 foot tall, 118-story tower built on only one acre, incorporated structural engineering advances that demonstrated how modern wind engineering and materials can be used to achieve slender towers of unprecedented height. Bill would later continue such innovation by developing the “buttressed-core” structural system for the Burj Khalifa, a system which, in conjunction with sophisticated wind engineering, makes it possible to construct skyscrapers of extreme elevation. The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest manmade structure and it exemplifies Baker’s belief that the exterior form of a high rise should be a direct expression of its structural framework; where, in the best instances, great structural and architectural collaboration results in situations where one cannot describe the structure without the architecture, and the architecture without its structure. Bill continues to push the boundaries of form and science with its neighbor, the twisting, 300m Infinity Tower, while his contributions to the Nanjing Greenland Financial Center (the seventh tallest building in the world) and the proposed Lotte Super Tower diagrid structure secure his international reputation as a structural innovator.

Closer to home, Baker has left his mark on Chicago by spearheading the structural design of the AT&T Corporate Center and the 92-story Trump International Hotel and Tower. At 423m tall, Trump stands as the second tallest building in North America and is the second tallest concrete building in the world behind the Burj Khalfia. According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), three of the four tallest buildings to top out in 2009 are credited to Baker: Burj Khalifa, Trump International Hotel and Tower, and Nanjing Greenland Financial Center.

In addition to working at SOM, Bill is committed to research and education. His knowledgeable expertise is frequently solicited by institutions of higher learning, as well as numerous professional organizations. Most notably, he was engaged by the U.S. Federal Government in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to assist in understanding the World Trade Center collapse. As a scholar, he is currently focused on developing progressive research regarding the structural topology of tall buildings based on optimization methods.

Bill is the 2010 recipient of the Gold Medal from the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) and the 2009 recipient and first American to receive the Fritz Leonhardt Preis (Germany). In 2008, the CTBUH awarded him with the Fazlur Rahman Khan medal. Bill is a Fellow of both the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the IStructE. He is also on the Specifications Committee of the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and frequently lectures on a variety of structural engineering topics within the U.S. and abroad.