Jeffrey Smilow depends on steel and solid teamwork to overcome complex engineering challenges, especially in his beloved New York City.
Engineer Jeffrey Smilow says the flexibility and strength of steel and the ability to modify it can yield better outcomes.
Jeffrey Smilow is used to solving complex engineering challenges, many involving a place that's dear to his heart: New York City. Look no further than his role developing the steel superstructure of 66 Hudson Boulevard., known as The Spiral.
The massive 66-story, 1,005-foot-tall building, which has a total of 2.85 million square feet of space, presented some unique engineering challenges. Smilow, executive vice president and managing director of building structures at WSP USA, and his team depended on steel to help overcome those hurdles.
“The spiraling terraces that work their way up the building spiral inward as we rise while the footprint gets smaller and smaller,” he says in his native Brooklyn accent. “And that's what makes this unique.”
The client also wanted a structure with wide spans so the interior spaces could be more flexible. That's another reason Smilow opted for steel. “Steel is high strength compared to other materials,” he says. “When you put together the flexibility and the strength of steel and the ability to modify it, that delivered the better result.”
Because of tight deadlines, the steel had to be readily available for the fabricator. Plus, “It had to meet weldability, durability, and ductility requirements so that we wouldn't have issues with it later on,” he says.
Smilow says there was a significant amount of time saved because his team could benefit from Nucor's domestic supply—no waiting for overseas shipments at port—plus reliable rolling schedules with a variety of shapes to choose from. “When we begin the design on a new project, one of the early phone calls should be to Nucor so we understand what's available and when, including rolling schedules, shapes, etc.,” he says. “So we can incorporate it without any second thoughts.”
When he was working on The Spiral office tower in Manhattan's Hudson Yards, Smilow used steel to help overcome a daunting set of engineering challenges. Image by Binyan Studios.
Saving and rebuilding
Smilow describes The Spiral as the most exciting and unique commercial building his team worked on in recent history. But another project he will never forget is helping rebuild after 9/11.
When the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, the buildings collapsed and caused damage to surrounding structures as well. While rescue and recovery operations were underway, the city asked engineers to determine whether the remaining buildings were structurally sound.
Smilow led his company's participation in those efforts. “We were on-site 24/7 and aiding with the safety-related building issues,” he says.
His role included providing guidance and oversight on whether certain buildings could collapse.
His skills were put to the test. “That was a wake-up call,” Smilow says. “What does an engineer know about making a site safe that's on the verge of collapse? They don't teach you that at school, so everybody was winging it.” He suddenly had to solve problems no one was prepared for.
Smilow and his team helped create the 1,776-foot One World Trade Center tower, which was built with approximately 45,000 tons of structural steel.
The importance of teamwork
Smilow stresses teamwork is key to helping overcome obstacles, including the major challenges he faced after 9/11. He vividly recalls walking around Ground Zero with his colleague Ahmad Rahimian, executive vice president and USA director of building structures at WSP USA. [Read more about Rahimian's distinguished career.]
“We were in the firehouse very close to Ground Zero,” Smilow says. “Everyone went there to take a rest. The firemen were sleeping on the floor and taking a nap. It was a war zone, but we did everything together.” Smilow values Rahimian as a trusted partner of nearly 40 years. “He'll call me to ask about something in one of my areas of expertise and vice versa,” he says. “It's that willingness to work with every engineer and share that knowledge—to teach and learn—that's special.”
The duo then worked together to rebuild the World Trade Center site, including towers 1, 2 and 3. The site's tallest building is the 1,776-foot One World Trade Center, which was built with approximately 45,000 tons of structural steel.
Throughout his career, teamwork has played a constant role in Smilow's success, even as the industry has changed over the years. But he feels having people you can count on is more important than ever, whether it's trusted colleagues such as Rahimian and Silvian Marcus, the senior partner who hired Smilow nearly 40 years ago, or industry partners such as Nucor.
Having conversations with Nucor at the onset of a project, for example, can save money in the long run because it keeps costs down. Another benefit is having a team of experts keeping you apprised of the latest engineering technology while ensuring all of your materials and scheduling needs are met as quickly as possible.
“Teamwork within an engineering business and with trusted partners such as Nucor is essential to the success of any project," Smilow says. "This is true teamwork.”
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