Othmar H. Ammann
2013 Class | 1879-1965
Believed to be the greatest bridge builder of the 20th century, Othmar Hermann Ammann’s innovative genius was his ability to anticipate future challenges. Born in Switzerland, Ammann came to New York in 1904, where his gift for long span bridge design and forward thinking matched perfectly with the city’s need to connect its five growing boroughs and the island of Manhattan to the mainland U.S.
Over the course of his career, Ammann was commissioned in the design and construction of over 16 major bridge projects, founded two public port agencies and launched two private engineering firms, the latter of which, Ammann & Whitney, still stands today, 50 years after his death.
His designs were the result of innovation upon innovation, culminating in record-breaking and aesthetically beautiful structures, including the iconic George Washington Bridge (GWB). Seeing the great potential of “motor-cars,” Ammann designed the GWB with future needs in mind. Originally constructed with six lanes and two sidewalks, Ammann left a 32-foot wide unpaved strip in the center of the GWB and provided enough capacity to accommodate a second, lower roadway, which were both utilized, in 1946 and 1958 respectively. At the time of its completion, it was the longest bridge span in the world.
Until about the time of the GWB, bridge approaches were constructed such that traffic fed directly into local street networks. Recognizing that a distribution system of ramps and connecting roadways would be needed to disperse traffic, Ammann provided some of these more complex connections, and provided the capacity for even more, into his design of the GWB.
From the monolithic plate steel on the Bronx-Whitestone towers, to the innovative truss system of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which took into account the curvature of the earth and was the longest suspension bridge in the world for almost 20 years, Othmar Ammann pushed the limits of possibility to deliver functional, forward-thinking and awe inspiring structures that today define America’s landscape.