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Srinivasa (Hal) Iyengar (b. 1934)

Dates of Interview:

January 25-28, 2008

Location of Interview:

Iyengar's home in Sanibel, Florida


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

195 pages
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Biographical Summary

Srinivasa Iyengar, known as Hal, was born in 1934 in French Rocks, India, son of a civil engineer who expected his son to follow in his footsteps. Hal, after earning two engineering degrees and working briefly at a less than challenging job, decided to accept a research assistantship at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC). In 1960, after three years at UIUC, Hal was hired by Skidmore Owings and Merrill, where he worked for the next 32 years. The group that Hal most often worked with was that of Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan, a team that produced innovative award-winning buildings such as Sears Tower and Hancock Center. Like Fazlur Khan, Hal was interested in exploring the evolution of structural systems that had application in tall buildings. Hal taught at Washington University, St. Louis, and the University of Illinois, Chicago; wrote and published numerous articles; delivered many papers at conferences; and has been awarded various fellowships and achievement awards. After retiring from SOM in 1992 Hal continued doing consulting work. He now splits his time between his summer home in Vermont and winter home in Florida.

Interview Highlights

Iyengar speaks about his family and early education; his first engineering job that sent him back to school for further training; obtaining a research assistantship at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) using early computers; working at SOM; working with the Fazlur Khan and Bruce Graham team; exploring the structural in various building systems; working with Walter Netsch and Myron Goldsmith; rational and irrational architecture; the Hancock Center and Sears Tower; overseas work; McCormick Place II; evolution of structural systems; and working with Frank Gehry.

Sears Tower, Chicago, IL, 1974
Photo by Ezra Stoller. Copyright, Esto; Courtesy, Esto

Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain, 1997
Courtesy, SOM

Interview Excerpt

"The period between 1963 and 1980 was a period where a lot of systems evolved. And there was this systems evolution that I talked about. And the amazing thing was that we were able to fit each one of the systems, and make it a reality in a kind of a sequence. We started with the frame building at the BMA, and then it went on to Brunswick building; and then the One Shell Plaza building in Houston, and One Shell Square in New Orleans. And then the Hancock building and Sears Tower in Chicago. Each one of them were part of this evolution. And they used a different structural system to bring about higher efficiencies as the buildings went taller. So, this was the notion that Faz started in the 1960s, that the amazing thing was that he was not going to be able to recognize it early on, but be able to realize it in his own lifetime. So it's a very significant thing." (pp. 151-52)

BP Bridge, Millennium Park, Chicago, IL, 2004
Photo by Peter Barreras; Copyright, Peter Barreras; Courtesy, SOM

Additional Resources

Finding Aid to Bruce J. Graham papers, 1939-2010
Finding Aid to Fazlur R. Khan collection, 1944-1988
Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives

Funding for this oral history was provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP.