Guy Nordenson

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Guy Nordenson is professor of architecture and structural engineering at Princeton University. He studied at MIT and the University of California at Berkeley and began his career as a draftsman in the joint studio of R. Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi in Long Island City in 1976. He has practiced structural engineering in San Francisco and New York. In 1987 Nordenson established the New York office of Ove Arup & Partners and was its director until 1997, when he began his current practice Guy Nordenson Associates. In 1994 he co-founded the Structural Engineers Association of New York. He is Commissioner and Secretary of the New York City Public Design Commission.

Date of presentation

3 Mar, 2015


Introduced as an engineer with a philosophy, Guy Nordenson illustrates what he calls a ‘confluence of creative energy’ by introducing numerous projects in which architects and engineers met in ‘vortex’ to produce elegantly designed details, many of which remain hidden, discoverable only to those with a desire to ‘read structure’.

‘In the days of Art
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part
For the Gods see everywhere’
Henry W. Longfellow, The Builders, 1849

Telling of Nordenson’s disposition, the poem quoted in the beginning of his presentation hints at two aspects of his work. Originally interested in studying literature, and only later to become an engineer, a lot of Nordenson’s descriptions of structure lend their vocabulary from his former humanitarian studies. Rhetoric, metaphor and irony are all aptly used to describe the details in some of the most famous built projects in the last century, many of which Nordenson was involved in. This is where the engineer with a philosophy starts to make sense, as structure is introduced not merely as a solution of force-bearing struts, but as an opportunity to express or even magnify an architectural position.
The poem also alludes to Nordenson’s interest for the ‘hidden’ structure, and the creativity invested into details of a building that are ultimately invisible. In this way structure does not only have to provide legitimacy in the modernist sense through its diagrammatic use.

Sören Davy

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