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August 2, 2018
by AIA New York
Robert Silman at the 2009 Heritage Ball. Credit: Sam Lahoz.
Robert Silman at the 2009 Heritage Ball. Credit: Sam Lahoz.

It is with deep sadness that we inform our membership of the passing of Robert Silman, PE, Hon. AIANY, founder of Silman and a valued friend and supporter of the Center for Architecture, on July 31, 2018, at the age of 83.

Silman founded his eponymous structural engineering firm in 1966. Since then, the firm, recognized as one of the leading structural engineering firms in the country for its innovative spirit, has grown to a staff of 160 with offices in New York, Washington, DC, and Boston. Silman was an international leader in the promotion of sustainable design, founding the Working Commission 7 on Sustainable Design for the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE) and serving on the consortium who developed the High Performance Guidelines for New York City Capital Construction Projects.

Silman was also an expert in historic preservation and was knowledgeable about construction systems in the United States dating back to the country’s earliest building types. In association with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Friends of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Silman assisted in writing the Pocantico Proclamation on Historic Preservation and Sustainability. Notable historic preservation projects include Carnegie Hall, Fallingwater, and the Immigration Museum at Ellis Island.

On the basis of his outstanding professional qualifications, the Secretary of the Interior appointed Silman to the Advisory Board for the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, where he served as chairman. Silman was the recipient of the Anton Tedesko Medal by IABSE, the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Leadership Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Harley J. McKee Award from the Association for Preservation Technology International.

Silman was also a key supporter in the founding of the Center for Architecture in 2003. His firm continued to support the growth of the organization, most recently with the renovation of our main conference room, now renamed the Silman Room. In 2009, AIANY conferred the AIA New York Chapter Award for his contributions to the built environment of New York.

A memorial service in New York City will take place in Fall 2018. Further details will follow.

Go here to make a donation to the Center for Architecture in Robert Silman’s name.

Below, please find remembrances by Silman’s friends and colleagues.

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Robert Silman was a brilliant engineer, as well as a great colleague and friend to architects. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Center for Architecture 15 years ago. His personal generosity and his legacy of involvement through his company, Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers, continues to help the Center and AIA New York grow and thrive. Just a few years ago, our main conference room was renovated and renamed the Silman Room, an effort made possible by the company as lead patron. Personally, I was thrilled to get to know Bob in recent years when he became a lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design, as he continued to engage with and educate architects. Bob will be dearly missed by the architectural community and by AIA New York and the Center for Architecture.

– Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director, AIANY | Center for Architecture

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Bob Silman was a critical force in the creation, expansion, and renovation of the Center for Architecture, and did more than anyone to bring the Chapter and Foundation together. When the Center opened in October of 2003, a marathon day of eighty speakers described how the place might bring diverse design professionals together and not be merely a headquarters building for the architectural institute. The engineers were up first, and Bob pushed before, during, and after for the concept of interdisciplinary discourse at the Center and collaboration between disciplines in design and construction. This included not only engineers and architects, but, particularly, environmentalists and preservationists.

When the Center expanded to the adjacent storefront and renovated its lecture hall, honoring Bob’s friend and colleague Edgar Tafel, Bob was there, guiding and inspiring. And when the Center’s library was transformed into a state-of-the-art meeting space, Bob was there again – and the result, appropriately, bears his name. Few have done as much to make the Center a success, but for Bob Silman it was part of a larger picture – the Center as a microcosm demonstrating how practitioners, theorists and activists can work together to change the world, preserving legacy and catalyzing the future.

Rick Bell, FAIA, Executive Director, Design and Construction Excellence, NYC Department of Design and Construction; former Executive Director, AIANY | Center for Architecture

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Bob was my friend and colleague for over forty years—one of the great engineers who truly understood and contributed to so many design projects. His seminal role in the founding of the Center for Architecture is just one of his many hundreds of important and invaluable contributions to the architectural world. As we grow older it is painful, but inevitable, that we lose those who were close to us. It is good to remember that Bob’s life was well lived, and he was brave until the end. The support of his wonderful lifetime partner Roberta, his loving extended family, and his family in the architectural community helped to sustain him. We have all lost a treasure.

– Rolf Ohlhausen, FAIA, Founder, Ohlhausen Dubois Architects

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Those who knew Bob professionally will miss his calm, encouraging presence and his inspiring words and actions. He built the firm that bears his name with a strong humanistic vision: to create a place that was different from any other, a place where people loved to come to work, and a place where engineering made the world better. He empowered us to perform at our highest level and to find joy in everything we do. Bob taught us to treat every client the same way—with respect, passion, and an unwavering commitment to excellence. We will remember and honor his engineering talents and insights; his work for civic groups and industry organizations; his advocacy for historic preservation and sustainability long before they were commonplace; his role teaching and nurturing the next generation of designers at Columbia, Yale, and Harvard; and his pioneering work at an international level through the International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE). Although our hearts are heavy, we will continue Bob’s legacy by promoting his vision and values at Silman, the firm he founded 52 years ago.

– Joseph Tortorella, PE, President, Silman

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