images COURTESY macarthur foundation
and john ochsendorf
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently named 25 new MacArthur Fellows for 2008, and this year’s roster is as varied as ever. It includes an urban farmer, an optical physicist, a sculptor, an inventor of musical instruments, and the structural engineer and architectural historian John Ochsendorf, who is currently teaching in the department of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The coveted prize is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations, which it does with a $500,000, no-strings-attached award, paid out over the course of five years.
Ochsendorf’s work spans the fields of structural engineering and architectural history, and has explored alternative engineering traditions. While his early work investigated the construction of hand-woven, fiber suspension bridges that spanned the deep ravines and connected territories of the Inca Empire, his more recent work has focused on identifying the causes of vault and buttress failures in French and Spanish Romanesque churches.
“Our work is about using cutting-edge engineering to try and save historic buildings by understanding the safety of old structures, and on the other hand, to gain a new understanding of history to help guide the construction of more efficient architecture in the future,” he told AN. Ochsendorf has applied these techniques to projects ranging from the restoration of the first Guastavino vault in the UK, the Pines Calyx dome; the structural vaults built from local soil for a museum at the World Heritage Site of Mapungubwe in South Africa, designed by Peter Rich Architects (pictured below); and the design, fabrication, and construction of a compression-only stone masonry vault prototype.