Reflections: Thoughts from Past Chairmen

40th Anniversary Reflections, October 2009

The story of the evolution of the CTBUH is at once one about the coming together of brilliant, talented individuals and the growth of a worldwide body of knowledge. Throughout the 40 years of its varied existence, the organization has been furthered principally through the sharing of technical knowledge and insight. Such international collaboration—in spite of the myriad obstacles involved in doing so—required not only expertise in the field of tall buildings but passion for it as well.  And beneath the breadth and diversity of backgrounds and interests characterized by those integral to the Council’s history lies a common thread of passion that has sustained the organization and garnered the respect of the industry it represents.

To be sure, this passion for the Council’s body of work is an unspoken and assumed prerequisite for the role of chairman. Those who have served in this role throughout the organization’s history have dedicated incalculable time, energy and creativity to this volunteer position, with a multitude of aspirations that include the perpetual sharing of insight brought on by a field that time and again demonstrates impressive innovation.

For its 40th anniversary, the CTBUH has collected reflections of past chairmen, which highlight the organization’s fruitful existence through four decades. In their writings, these notable individuals demonstrate the mutual respect and admiration that serves as a cornerstone to the Council’s collaborative structure. Alongside this respect is an indication of the passion that has furthered the growth of the organization throughout its history, and will likely guide it through many more decades to come.


John Rankine, Sydney, Australia

CTBUH Chairman (1982–1985)

I was very honored to have been associated with the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, virtually right from the very beginning. I was closely associated with Lynn Beedle at Lehigh University and enjoyed every moment of my association both with Lynn and the Council. To be asked to follow Fazlur Khan as Chairman of the Council was a great inspiration in itself. In addition, being the Chairman of the Council allowed me to travel to the USA and provided me with the opportunity to meet all of the top engineers and to be kept up to date with all of the latest trends in engineering.

When my term as Chairman ended I “passed the gavel” on to Les Robertson who I regard as one of my dearest friends. Looking back, I realize how privileged I was to have been sandwiched between two of the greatest structural engineers—Fazlur Khan and Les Robertson. As I enjoy my retirement on my farm in Australia I fondly remember the very happy memories of my time with the Council.

Professor Lynn S. Beedle created the Council...and did so from nothing more than his own dreams and his own energies.


Leslie Earl Robertson, New York, USA

CTBUH Chairman (1985–1990)

My term of office was so long ago as to dull the memory of any but the most significant of events. Indeed, the plural is improper as my memory focuses on but just one central remembrance: Prof. Lynn S. Beedle. 

Lynn created the Council… and did so from nothing more than his own dreams and his own energies. He dragged us, sometimes kicking and screaming, to the far corners of the globe… thus providing a sort of technical transfer of information about tall buildings. In a way that was typical of Lynn, he gently “bulldozed” us into creating the “Monographs”, that stack of books that has turned up in the offices and the classrooms of the world. He did his gentle prodding with both enthusiasm and grace.  

The truth of the matter is that, during my term, Lynn was the real Chairman of the Council. My role as the titular Chairman was but to nod in admiration of that which he accomplished.  Being only modestly interested in assistance from me, Lynn was both the technical and the business leader of the Council.  With a staff, eager, loyal, and talented, but scant in numbers, he carried a huge burden on his shoulders.  Lynn explained this to me as being the result of “financial limitations”. While it’s likely that these limitations were both real and serious, the essence of that burden was more likely associated with his desire to be involved in the smallest details of the operation of the Council.

With military precision, Lynn outlined nearly all that came to the fore, thus allowing us to follow in his footsteps, filling in the missing pieces (which were few in number, and often zero were truly important).  And he collected everything! His three-drawer filing cabinets must have been countless: containing papers, letters, slides, notes...everything.

Travel was the story of his life. Leaving wife (Ella), and daughter (Helen), behind to guard the home front, it appeared that he accepted all of the countless speaking invitations that came his way. And those invitations were endless! When I wrote to Lynn, followed by a one-day visit to Lehigh, suggesting that on all future travel he change his air reservations from Coach to Business Class, he argued that it was too expensive, conceding only when I became insistent.

Lynn was a consummate communicator. Every morning, Monday through Friday, as I turned on my computer, I knew that there would be a message from Lynn. On Saturday mornings, with few exceptions, he telephoned to discuss some obscure issue.  His messages were largely about the activities of the Council, but strayed regularly into personal comments on family and friends. Lynn must have sent birthday notes to hundreds of members of the Council. On the occasion of his annual holiday, the notes continued; at the end of the holiday there was always a little recap of the wonders of his days away from Lehigh and the Council.

At meetings of the Council, and there were so many, in the evenings Lynn preferred to be a bit of a loner; always there was a “good” reason for his not joining us in revelry. It was not because others would exclude him, this was just his way. When I would chide him, he would give me a BIG smile and say that he had just too much on his plate.

Lynn’s gentle manner and smiling countenance were always present. When times got a bit rough, particularly when he was forced to deal with my errant ways, his quick smile seemed to become broader and easier to surface.

Prof. Lynn S. Beedle, unmistakably the real Chairman of the Council, was my ideal of the perfect gentleman. Would that I, as well as others, could rise to his level.


Gilberto do Valle, Sao Paulo, Brazil

CTBUH Chairman (1993–1996)

I was scheduled to attend a Congress of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineers at Rome (September 1991) where I would be elected as Vice-President of IABSE. Lynn Beedle was aware of my schedule, phoned me and said: “Since you will be traveling to Rome, why not stop by New York.  Les Robertson, Don Ross and I would like to have lunch with you.” So I made a stop in New York for the scheduled lunch, and almost fell off my chair when they said, “We would like to invite you to be the next Chairman of CTBUH.”  “Why me?”, I asked. “Because you have attended all the meetings of the Executive Committee since you took on the role as Vice Chairman for South America, and you have attended this lunch.  This means that you believe in CTBUH.”

From then on, for anyone who knew Lynn, phone calls and fax messages came almost every day (email was still a thing of the future).  As a result of a mistake by my secretary, Lynn also learned the telephone number of my summer home (outside of Rio); so, during the weekends we had many telephone conferences! At that time, the CTBUH finances were always in the red and we had to work very hard with Lehigh University to try to right the situation but, I am afraid to say, this never happened during my term. All of that, however, was compensated with the pleasure of having so many good friends at the meetings: Don Ross (Jaros Baum & Bolles) as host, with fantastic New York sandwiches for lunch, Shankar Nair, Sabah Al-Rayes, Ken Yeang, Edison Musa, Doug Bennett (of Turner Construction, who later took on the role of host), Ron Klemencic, Jerry Reich, Charlie DeBenedittis, Joe Colaço, Irwin Cantor, and many others; as well as the Council staff of Dolores and Geri.   

I always remember with pleasure my visit to the Council’s headquarters at Lehigh. Lynn was very honored and happy about this and showed me all of the offices, the work the staff was doing, the Library, and the  archives with hundreds of photos and facts tied to Tall Buildings. And I also toured the Fritz Engineering Laboratory where Lynn worked at the beginning of his career at Lehigh University.

When I passed the command to Shankar in 1997 the “ceremony” took place at the top of the Sears Tower. At the time the Sears Tower was being surpassed by the Petronas Towers, Chicago pride was being hurt, and the press was anxious to know what the Council’s ruling was going to be.  Would those pinnacles of the Petronas Towers defeat the Sears Tower? Lynn Beedle received the press and gave them the decision and a diplomatic solution: “We will create a new listing of the tallest building to the highest occupied floor.” Chicago could continue to keep its honor for several years to come. I couldn’t believe what a fantastic, shining day it was when we took the photograph on the roof of the Sears Tower; no clouds and a 10km round view (see image below).

Image from newspaper coverage of the passing of CTBUH Chairmanship from do Valle to Nair on the rooftop of the Sears Tower Chicago. From left to right: R. Shankar Nair, Lynn S. Beedle, Gilberto do ValleImage from newspaper coverage of the passing of CTBUH Chairmanship from do Valle to Nair on the rooftop of the Sears Tower Chicago. From left to right: R. Shankar Nair, Lynn S. Beedle, Gilberto do Valle

We knew how to build skyscrapers of almost any size, shape and form; the bigger question now was whether we should.



R. Shankar Nair, Chicago, USA

CTBUH Chairman (1997–2001)

My term as chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat ended just weeks before September 11th 2001, when the world of tall buildings was suddenly turned upside-down.  Thoughtful people know of course that what happened that day was a security failure, not a building failure, and that the lesson of 9/11 is not that tall buildings should be built differently; it is that criminals should be prevented from flying airplanes into buildings. But this wasn’t obvious at the time, at least to the general public, and correcting the misperception gave the Council an immediate and critical raison d’être.

But this was after my tenure. In the years leading up to 9/11, the challenge facing the Council was to answer two questions: (1) Does the Council have a reason to exist and (2) how do we manage after Lynn Beedle?

These issues would have seemed very remote in 1972, when I had my first experience with the Council. That was at Lehigh University, at the first Congress of the predecessor to CTBUH.  The organization was known then as the Joint Committee on Tall Buildings of IABSE and ASCE, and the conference title was “Planning and Design of Tall Buildings.”  Skyscraper design seemed like a new and exciting field then, and I still remember that there was a certain spirit and enthusiasm at that event that could make it a model for almost any conference on any subject (even if a clambake is not possible everywhere).

I never imagined in 1972 that I would one day be chairman of the Council, but I became increasingly active in the organization from the mid-1980s onward. By that time the Council had been transformed into much more than a structural engineering group. And the tall building focus had been broadened to include the urban habitat of which the buildings are a part. The international nature of the organization had also been reinforced.  By the mid-1980s, the Council was recognized as the only organization in the world involved with tall buildings and the urban habitat that was both international and multidisciplinary.  

By 1997, when I became chairman of the Council, the technology of skyscrapers had advanced to the point that the “why” of tall buildings was at least as important as the “how.”  We knew how to build skyscrapers of almost any size, shape and form; the bigger question now was whether we should. But the Council’s focus was perceived, rightly or not, as being more the nuts-and-bolts of skyscraper design and construction than the broader issues of the building’s place in the urban environment. So the challenge was to correct that perception or, if the perception was correct, to change the focus of the Council to conform to what was needed for the age.  But there was legitimate concern that this would duplicate what other, larger organizations were doing already.

An interesting sideshow—of great interest to the public but peripheral to the Councils’ mission—throughout my tenure was the controversy over how to measure skyscraper height. The Sears Tower had just lost the tallest-building crown to Petronas, as a result of rules under which spires count in the height measurement. To many people this just didn’t make sense. But to those who say that spires shouldn’t count, I would ask:  Should we not count the spire on the Chrysler Building?  Anyway, the issue has gone away now, with Taipei 101 (and soon Burj Dubai) being the tallest by any measure.

The other challenge facing the Council in the 1990s, beyond the matter of its reason to exist, was leadership transition. The Council had had several very illustrious chairmen before my time but the guiding spirit all along was Lynn Beedle, the founding director. And after 30-plus years, the Council was so closely identified with Dr. Beedle that a CTBUH without him as its anchor was hard to contemplate. It was touch-and-go for a while but thanks to the efforts of my successors, Ron Klemencic and David Scott, the transition has been made successfully and this organization is well positioned now to go from strength to strength.


Ron Klemencic, Seattle, USA

CTBUH Chairman (2001–2006)

I had my first interactions with CTBUH around 1990. I was working on the design of a tall concrete tower for a Japanese client and the client suggested that the project design team travel to Hong Kong to attend the CTBUH World Congress. This trip was my first to Hong Kong, in fact my first to Asia, and WOW, …what an eye opening experience. Hundreds and hundreds of very tall buildings that I had never seen before… all in one location. Who designed all of these buildings, I wondered?

The Congress itself was an eye opener as well. Attended by something like 600 of the world’s top architects, engineers and contractors, I remember distinctly catching a glimpse of some of the “rock stars” of the industry—Walter P. Moore, Les Robertson, Gene Kohn, Richard Keating, and so on… then there was Dr. Lynn Beedle… the energetic, charismatic man leading the Council and the Congress.

Interestingly, my senior project at Purdue University was based on a book written by Dr. Beedle, Plastic Design of Steel Structures. As a senior at Purdue, I simply thought the material in his book was an interesting and exciting design direction. I had no idea our paths would ever cross, or what a huge influence Dr. Beedle would have on my career.

I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Beedle at the Congress and spend a few minutes chatting with him. Always the promoter, Dr. Beedle had me signed up as a member of the organization and assigned to a committee before that first conversation ended. Being simply bedazzled by the energy of the Congress on the construction-crazy Hong Kong environment, I returned from the trip with a clear and specific vision of what I wanted to do… design tall buildings… cool tall buildings… all around the world.

Over the course of the next few years, I actively engaged in CTBUH activities, attending other conferences and committee meetings, networking with the “who’s who” of the tall buildings industry. The opportunity to learn from the best in the world was profound.

By the late 1990s I had entered a leadership role in CTBUH, first serving as the Finance Committee Chair, then as Congress Chair of the 7th World Congress in Melbourne, Australia, and ultimately was appointed CTBUH Chairman in the summer of 2001. I accepted the Chairmanship two months before the attacks of 9/11.

The 9/11 attacks resulted in the media reporting the “end of the high rise” in a panic-ridden time. Immediately, the Council was called upon to attempt to assess what the collapse of the World Trade Center towers meant for the future of high rises and tall building safety. Industry leadership was the call of the Council for the ensuing months and even into the next few years. Countless meetings, seminars, and phone conferences resulted in CTBUH publishing the first set of high rise safety guidelines in the fall of 2002.

During my term in service as Chairman, I had tremendous opportunities to travel and interact with some of the most interesting and engaging people in the industry and around the world. Prince Charles, the Mayors of Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, London, Seoul, and Shanghai, the President of Taiwan, and countless other dignitaries were among the numbers. I relished the opportunity of interacting and learning from colleagues around the globe… not just technical engineering information, but also business and cultural practices. What an enjoyable and fascinating journey. I remain most honored and privileged to have served the CTBUH organization in this capacity and happily remain active today, serving on the Board of Trustees.