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Bob Silman

1935 - 2018
Bob Headshot
"Bob built the firm with a humanistic vision: to create a place that was different from any other, a place where people loved to come to work, and a place where engineering made the world better." — Joseph Tortorella, President — Joseph Tortorella, President

Those who knew Bob Silman miss his calm, encouraging presence and his inspiring words and actions. He empowered us to perform at our highest level and to find joy in everything we do. Bob taught us to treat every client the same way—with respect, passion, and an unwavering commitment to excellence.

We remember and honor his engineering talents and insights; his work for civic groups and industry organizations; his advocacy for historic preservation and sustainability long before they were commonplace; his role teaching and nurturing the next generation of designers at Columbia, Yale, and Harvard; and his pioneering work at an international level through the International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE).

We continue Bob’s legacy by promoting his vision and values at Silman, the firm he founded in 1966.

We’d like to share a few words directly from Bob, in an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Notes from the Scaffold, Reflections of a Structural Engineer:

“. . . it is the cumulative effect of my work that gives me pride. It is the methodology by which structural engineering was practiced in our firm, it is the integrity with which the entire staff performed at all times, it is the contribution to the strength of the urban fabric, the resistance that I put up to the deleterious and sometimes disastrous practices of other members of the engineering and architecture community. They were often the small things that didn’t seem consequential at the time but proved to provide a solid base that I cherish most as I reflect on the past.”


Bob Silman was a leading expert in historic preservation, as evidenced by his work on Carnegie Hall, Fallingwater, and the Immigration Museum at Ellis Island, to name only a few projects. He had a keen understanding of construction systems in the United States, dating back to the country’s earliest building types. For his outstanding professional qualifications, the Secretary of the Interior appointed Bob to the Advisory Board for the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, for which he was past-Chairman, representing the fields of engineering and preservation education. Until the summer of 2018, he was on the faculty at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard where he taught a seminar in the Philosophy of Technology.

Bob was an international leader in the promotion of sustainable design and green building practices. As Founder of the Working Commission 7 on Sustainable Design for IABSE, he chaired their annual symposium in Rio de Janeiro, devoted to issues of sustainability. He lectured at conferences and wrote articles on sustainability for Structural Engineering International. He was a member of the consortium writing the High Performance Guidelines for New York City Capital Construction Projects, sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Construction. In association with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Friends of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Bob assisted in writing the Pocantico Proclamation on Historic Preservation and Sustainability. This work was followed with the Nashville Challenge in October 2009, which he co-chaired.


  • 2015 National Trust for Historic Preservation, Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award
  • 2015 International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE), Honorary Member
  • 2013 Association for Preservation Technology International, Harley J. McKee Award
  • 2011 Carpenters’ Company Philadelphia, Master Builder Award
  • 2011 New York Concrete Industry Board, Leader of Industry Award
  • 2010 New York Landmarks Conservancy, Preservation Leadership Award
  • 2009 AIA New York Chapter, President’s Award
  • 2006-2007 Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY), Honorary Member
  • 2006 Historic Districts Council, New York City, Landmarks Lion Award
  • 2004 International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE), Anton Tedesko Medal
  • 1996 NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, Certificate of Achievement for the Art of Structural Preservation
  • 1989 Municipal Arts Society of New York, Certificate of Merit for work on landmark buildings
  • 1988 American Society of Civil Engineers, elected as Fellow
  • 1987 American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter, elected as Honorary Member

In Memoriams


Architectural Record

The Architect’s Newspaper

The New York Times

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