OWNING NEW YORK

Henry M Orenstein

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hank.orenstein@corcoran.com

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New Yorker of the Day: Othmar Ammann, Master Bridge Builder.

Born in Switzerland on March 26, 1879, Othmar Amman was New York City's premiere designer of bridges. He designed more than half of the 11 bridges that connect New York City to the rest of the United States. His skill and ingenuity allowed him to create two of the longest suspension bridges of his time, the George Washington Bridge (1931), and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (1964). The Verrazano remains the longest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere.


Amman studied engineering in Zurich and emigrated to the New York City in 1904, and became a naturalized citizen in 1924. He spent most of his illustrious career in New York City. In 1933 he became the chieg engineer for NYC's Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. In 1933, he became chief engineer for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and guided the construction of many of New York's signature bridges, including the Triborough , the Henry Hudson, the Bayonne , the Goethals, the Bronx-Whitestone, and the Marine Parkway bridges. He was also responsible for managing the building of the Lincoln Tunnel.



In addition, he sat on the Board of Engineers in charge of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge , which opened in 1937. In 1939 he opened his own engineering office, then teamed with Charles Whitney in 1946 to form Ammann and Whitney. Through this partnership, he was able to collaborate on some of the best-known American bridges, including the Verrazano-Narrows, the Delaware Memorial, and the Walt Whitman bridges.


In 1964, Ammann was awarded the National Medal of Science from President Lyndon Johnson, the first time the medal was given to a civil engineer. The citation read, "...For a half century of distinguished leadership in the design of great bridges which combine beauty and utility with bold engineering concept and method..."


Robert Moses was Chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority during Ammann's tenure. Moses spoke at the dedication of Ammann College at Stonybrook University, New York in 1968, noting "Othmar Ammann was at once a mathematician, a forerunner in the industrial revolution and a dreamer in steel. He was a master of suspension and a builder of the most beautiful architecture known to man, a combination of realist and artist rarely found in this highly practical world." (American Society of Civil Engineers).


Months before his death in 1965, Ammann gazed through a telescope from his 32nd-floor Manhattan apartment. In his viewfinder was a brand-new sight some 12 miles away: his Verrazano-Narrows suspension bridge. As if in tribute to the engineering prowess that made Ammann's George Washington Bridge great, this equally slender, graceful span would not be surpassed in length for another 17 years (Smithsonian Magazine).


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