On Jan. 3, Ron Klemencic, who turned 55 the next day, got an early birthday present. From his 32nd-floor office window in Seattle, the seismic structural engineer looked down to see crews at grade beginning shoring work for an 850-ft-tall “proof of concept” for his cutting-edge composite steel frame. 

The high-rise, called Rainier Square Tower, represents the realization of a 15-plus-year ambition of the chairman and CEO of Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA). Klemencic expects the radical superstructure system, appropriate for office towers, to replace the common but slower-to-build “leading” concrete core surrounded by a trailing steel frame.

Ron KlemencicRon Klemencic
ENR 10/9/17 p. 8
Engineer organized public-domain research to test the seismic and wind performance of his modular composite steel core-wall system, intended to transform office-tower construction.

The steel tower’s frame will have a core of stacked factory-welded coupled-steel-plate modules, field-welded together and field-filled with rebar-less concrete. Rainier Square’s general contractor, Lease Crutcher Lewis, predicts the superstructure will take nine months less than one with a concrete core.

The innovative structural system still would be a dream had it not been for Klemencic-led research and development. In 2006, he organized load tests on the modules at Purdue University to prove their seismic performance. Last year, he championed a second round of tests, inspired by questions raised during the peer review for Rainier Square.

“Ron has had a profound impact on R&D for new approaches,” says Ronald O. Hamburger, one of the peer reviewers and a senior principal at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc.

To date, the modules in the latest series of tests, co-sponsored by $600,000 from the Charles Pankow Foundation and the American Institute of Steel Construction, are performing better than anticipated. “We knew our Rainier Square Tower design was conservative but didn’t have any test data to back up anything less conservative,” says Klemencic.

As a director of the private Charles Pankow Foundation, Klemencic also is guiding R&D on performance-based wind design, water reuse, prefabrication, structural fire engineering, building information modeling, integrated project delivery and heavy timber. “My ambition is to have people motivated and inspired and be a part of advancing the industry,” he says.

MKA has long relied on R&D to prove innovative concepts for use by all engineers. “Ron Klemencic has the unique ability to understand industry challenges, champion the fundamental R&D needed to address these challenges and shepherd the R&D products” into codes and standards, says Amit H. Varma, director of the Bowen Laboratory at Purdue and the co-investigator for the ongoing research, which will result in performance-based design guidelines for the novel system. 

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