Ray Daddazio: Stepping up sustainability

June 2012 » Cover Story
A New Yorker, an environmentalist, a collaborator, a scientist and ultimately an engineer's engineer.
Maureen Foody
Daddazio at the George Washington Bridge. Standing on the bridge as a youngster, 200 feet above the Hudson River with a foot in New York and another in New Jersey inspired Daddazio to become a structural engineer.

Growing up in the shadows of American ingenuity in upper Manhattan, it makes sense that Ray Daddazio became so enamored with structures and ultimately a successful structural engineer.

Daddazio, now president and CEO of Weidlinger Associates, remembers walking across the George Washington Bridge with his father and brother as a youngster, feeling "amazed by standing a couple of hundred feet above the Hudson River with one foot in New York and one foot in New Jersey."

One day, Daddazio read an Encyclopaedia Britannica publication called "The Yearbook of Science and the Future" that listed potential careers for a moon colony with civil engineer as one of the top choices. "I didn't even know what civil engineering was at the time, but I just figured if they were the first guys to go to the moon, then it sounded like a good thing to me," Daddazio said during a wide-ranging interview.

With the support of his family, Daddazio later pursued his passion at Columbia University, officially declaring his major as engineering in his junior year. He developed an appetite for mechanics after a freshmen year class that explored "principles of classical mechanics to solve all sorts of problems, from food mechanics to biomechanics to geomechanics." This passion for problem-solving kept Daddazio moving ahead in his field as he completed undergraduate studies in 1975 and obtained a Master of Science in Engineering in 1976 from the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at Columbia.

Moreover, the liberal arts curriculum helped Daddazio become a more fruitful and fluid communicator with engineers, contractors, builders and architects – a true collaborator.

Entering the professional world
While still pursuing his Doctorate of Science in Engineering at Columbia, Daddazio began his career at Weidlinger Associates in 1979. He worked with one of his mentors, Mel Baron, analyzing underwater shock problems (such as shockwaves propelling through the water and hitting other structures, such as submarines) in a study commissioned by The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Defense and a successor to the Manhattan project. Daddazio would have done that kind of work for free because it was of supreme interest to him to work on the continuation of such a historical project.

"There was no way to solve the problem in those days," Daddazio said. "We were working on theories; we were working on numerical implementation of those theories. We were also able to work with our government partners and do experiments to validate our theories and improve our approaches."

Daddazio stayed with Weidlinger after graduation, working within its applied sciences division, where he became director in 1996. Then, in 2006 he was elected president and CEO of the 300-person firm. Weidlinger specializes in applied science and investigations, transportation and building design. Daddazio shines with his significant contracts with the Department of Defense in areas such as shock and vibration, extreme loadings on structures, and risk assessment. Some of these protective designs even won awards from the U.S. General Services Administration, including a New Jersey federal office building, a border crossing facility in New York State, and an FBI parking garage in Puerto Rico. Weidlinger has weathered well through the recent recession, thanks to their diversity and broad range of expertise, a factor Daddazio is particularly proud of as they continue to work on everything from public schools to historic bridges, to government buildings.

Structural sustainability
Perhaps one of Daddazio's distinguishing hallmarks is his genuine concern for sustainability – backed up by engineering logic, of course.

"It should be the way you think, and you didn't have to say, 'I'm going to put my sustainability hat on and do this now.' Eventually, in the not-too-distant future it's just going to be how we work because from a simple math perspective, there are finite resources and there's increasing demand and we have to be smarter about how we use those resources," he said.

Projects such as the highly sustainable retail pavilion near the Statue of Liberty or the LEED-Platinum certified visitors' center at Queens Botanical Garden are two projects that stem from Daddazio's philosophy. At the international level, Weidlinger collaborated with architect Kieran Timberlake in designing the new U.S. Embassy in London, which is also seeking LEED-Platinum certification and is anticipated to break ground in 2013.

Daddazio also has an uncanny ability to translate complicated engineering concepts, aided by technology, into terms clients can understand.

"More and more technology creeps into every aspect of decision-making and so you have smart decision-makers who don't have the technical background, but certainly can understand the concepts," Daddazio said.

Moved by passion
Having all the tools and technology in the world is not enough since the contemporary structural engineer has to go the extra mile to move the industry forward.

"I think if you have the passion and you're in the right environment, you could do really great things with your career," Daddazio said. "If you have a passion and you're not in the right environment, certainly it becomes more difficult to sustain and you should look to be in an environment where you can be challenged and where people are willing to be mentors."

Using the multi-disciplinary methods he gained from Columbia, Daddazio encourages his staff to use a more holistic approach to designing structures by concurrently working with architects, contractors and other engineers from day one, rather than the back and forth that once was the norm. This streamlined process is something Daddazio sees happening far more frequently in the future as "even when you look at integrated project delivery, it really is all the disciplines sitting down and collaborating from time zero."

Daddazio views this as the challenge for the next generation: To not only find their own successes but also to continually be pushing for the most qualified engineers to work for American businesses to ensure public safety and the permanence of the structures that are being created.

Award winning
With these varied and impressive work experiences, it's easy to see why the accolades pour in for Daddazio and Weidlinger. In 2010 he was honored by the New York Society of Architects with its Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of significant contributions to the construction industry in the form of outstanding design. Daddazio also was presented with a 2011 Industry Recognition Award by the New York Building Congress, which made Daddazio "especially proud to have been chosen" as it honored the impact of Weidlinger on the city of New York – from their local projects in elementary schools and public safety centers to buildings and structures that have global notoriety, from Times Square to the United Nations to the World Trade Center.

New Yorker at heart – Ray Daddazio in Lower Manhattan, where Weidlinger Associates is moving soon.

"We're moving our offices down to 40 Wall Street and I think that this is even maybe in some sense things have come full circle," Daddazio said. "We did a tremendous amount of work, both structural engineering and protective design, in support of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center and then to be down there as this neighborhood comes back from what happened on 9/11; I couldn't find a better place for us to be."

Daddazio and Weidlinger are certainly still at work in New York City and all over the world using sustainable practices and their passion for safety and advancing a more complete understanding of engineering.

In 2004, Weidlinger won the prestigious award for leading a comprehensive investigation into the World Trade Center tower collapses. Weidlinger was hired by Silverstein Properties to prepare the study, which was disseminated by The National Institute of Standards and Technology. The investigation itself helped spur a movement in the engineering community focused on building structures that are efficient, strong and cost-effective. This has become such a marker of Weidlinger's success within protective design practice that Silverstein hired Weidlinger to provide blast design services at 200 Greenwich Street, which will have a core of steel inside reinforced concrete at its center. Daddazio sees the firm's work in NYC as an amazing inspiration, since Weidlinger started in the early 1950s as a tiny business with less than ten employees – but has since grown into a worldwide leader.

"I'm proud to be a New Yorker and I'm proud that Weidlinger is headquartered in New York. It's my favorite place to be"

"I'm proud to be a New Yorker and I'm proud that Weidlinger is headquartered in New York. It's my favorite place to be," Daddazio said.

Besides being a prominent structural engineer, Ray Daddazio is a self-professed news junkie – and he loves social media. Here, his Twitter profile.

When he isn't working, Daddazio enjoys spending time with his wife Sawako Yamaguchi and daughter, Anna. Although most of his time is dedicated to being a parent and leader at Weidlinger, Daddazio also admits to being a "news junkie" and social media participant in important discussions such as transportation and infrastructure financing through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Maureen Foody is a freelance writer and editor who lives and works in Chicago. She can be reached at Maureen.t.f@gmail.com.


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