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Structural Engineers Association of New York

SEAoNY April Seminar: Understanding the Old to Design the New: Revisiting Traditional Construction to Inspire Light-Weight and Sustainable Structural Design.

  • 16 Apr 2019
  • 6:15 PM - 8:00 PM
  • Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place
  • 50


SEAoNY April Seminar

Understanding the Old to Design the New: Revisiting Traditional Construction to Inspire Light-Weight and Sustainable Structural Design.

April 16, 2019

6:15 PM - 8:00 PM

Center for Architecture | 536 LaGuardia Place, New York, NY 10012

Presented By: Tim Michiels, Schlaich Bergermann Partner

Historic construction techniques can yield inspiration for novel structural design, yet engineers are rarely taught about the constructive systems, materials or analysis methods that were commonplace before WWII. This presentation will examine the value of revisiting traditional construction methods and demonstrate that they can be bolstered by state-of-the art digital tools to produce innovative designs.

With the advancement of digital fabrication and parametric modeling, some of the challenges that caused traditional construction techniques to fall out of fashion can be eliminated. Furthermore, now is a particularly crucial time to re-evaluate the merit of some of these historic techniques, as many offer building solutions that are far more environmentally sustainable than the methods that came to replace them.

In particular, this talk will explore the potential modern applications of earthen construction, continuous shell structures made from concrete or thin-tile “Guastavino” vaulting, as well as bamboo gridshells.

A series of historic preservation and new structural design projects ranging from the seismic retrofitting of a 17th century earthen church in Peru, to the development of design methods for new shell structures under earthquake loading will also be presented. The talk will conclude by showing a selection of light-weight structures that are currently being designed or constructed (some in the New York area) which draw inspiration from historic buildings.

Presenter Bio:

Tim Michiels is a structural engineer, designer and preservationist. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia’s Graduate School for Architecture Planning and Preservation and works as an engineer at Schlaich Bergermann and partner in New York. Tim received his PhD in Structural Engineering from Princeton University, where his research focused on the structural analysis of historic buildings and on developing design methods for vaulted shell structures in earthquake areas. He also holds a Master’s in Conservation of Monuments and Sites from the Raymond Lemaire International Center for Conservation and a Master’s in Civil Engineering from K.U. Leuven.

Since 2013 Tim has served as an engineering consultant for the Getty Conservation Institute on their Earthen Architecture Initiative, developing and implementing seismic retrofitting techniques for historic adobe monuments in Peru and authoring publications on the material testing and seismic strengthening of earthen buildings. Additionally, he has worked on preservation, construction and design campaigns throughout the world, and has been a visiting researcher at the University of RomaTre and the University of Cambridge. His research has received a series of awards, including the 2017 Hangai Prize from the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS).

l.5 PDH Credits 

Advanced registration closes 5:00pm April 15, 2019

Registration opens at 5:45pm. Seminar begins promptly at 6:15pm

For SEAoNY members, registration is $25 in advance or $35 at the door.

For non-members, registration is $40 in advance or $50 at the door.
For student members, registration is $5.

To avoid the credit card convenience fee, please send us a check. If you would like to bring cash or a check at the day of the event, please let us know by emailing us at

The event will take place at the Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place.



(t) 646.736.0694



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SEAoNY Education Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

SEAoNY is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.

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