He should have been nicknamed Honest Abe. He was one of the most understated people I have ever encountered. And he will be missed.
Structural engineer Abe Gutman, a senior vice president with Thornton Tomasetti who had been with the firm since October of 1969, died suddenly on April 9. He was 73 years young.
I first interviewed Abe in 1983 for a cover story on the World Financial Center at Battery Park City (in New York--across from the World Trade Center). I remember my first lunch with him, when he shared his early life story with me.
Abe was born in Poland during World War II and fled the country with his mother during the Nazi occupation. The experience gave him a very different perspective on the U.S. from many Americans who had never faced adversity or lived under a totalitarian regime. Abe was uncritical of the U.S. government and its policies. He had seen so much worse.
I am grateful to Abe for sharing his past and his cool-and-calm perspective with me.
Abe was quoted in at least eight ENR stories since 1980. All of his quotes reflect how down-to-earth he was.
Here is a sampling, taken from an article in 1985 on the "cagey centerpiece" of the WFC—the arched, glass covered Winter Garden (damaged by the 9/11 attacks and quickly repaired):
"A 50 to 60-ft-wide horizontal diaphragm truss is in the fourth floor, a U in plan with 175-ft legs," says Gutman (ENR 3/7/85 p. 28).
Lateral loads from the attached leg of the U go directly into Building C. Lateral loads on the "free" leg, alongside what will be Building B, travel through the truss to the attached leg and also into Building C.
"This is the key stiffening element," says Gutman. "The unattached leg effectively cantilevers from the attached one."
The horizontal truss also keeps the roof arches above from pushing out, says Gutman. "The easiest solution would have been ties across the space, but this was incompatible with the esthetics," says Gutman. The structure is designed to breathe on the unattached side through an eventual expansion joint between it and Building B.
Here's what he had to say about the trusses for the pedestrian bridges from the World Trade Center to the WFC—ruined by the 9/11 attacks:
"This scheme limited the splices to the midpoints of the web members and the midpoints of the chord members, where there is minimum moment," says Gutman (ENR 3/29/84 p. 60).
When Abe joined Thornton Tomasetti, it was called Lev Zetlin Associates. There were 32 people. TT currently has 850 people.
Abe worked on many projects over his nearly 45 years with the firm. In addition to the 6-million-sq-ft WFC, his "credits" include the 1.5-million-sq-ft Mellon Bank Building in Pittsburgh and the foundations for the 3.3-million-sq-ft Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Honest Abe. I'll say it again: He will be missed by many.