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October 12, 2023

Announcing the formal retirement of Joe Tortorella

  • Joe at the 2009 opening of the first section of the High Line.
  • Joe accepting the 2022 IABSE Member of the Year award from IABSE President Tina Vejrum. Photo courtesy of IABSE.
  • Left: Bronx housing rehabilitation. Right: Takashimaya Building.
  • Joe's new construction affordable housing projects included Via Verde.
  • Joe's projects also included major public buildings like New York City Hall. Photo credit: Kristina Hoeppner / CC BY-SA 2.0.

Dear colleagues,

It is with sadness (for us), but elation (for him), that we announce the formal retirement of Joseph (Joe) Tortorella, from Silman, a TYLin Company. Joe shared a wonderful email to the staff internally on September 17th, the 44th anniversary to the day of his first day in the offices of Robert Silman Associates. Now it is my turn to share the news with the world.

Joe came to Bob, as so many of us did, through a friend of Bob’s. He was hired immediately, even without a degree (something he would earn while working). Bob always had the ability to attract people who would make a difference and it is not an overstatement to note that, over the next 30 years, Joe did exactly that. Joe was front and center in almost every one of the firm’s milestone projects, and as the firm grew in both size and stature, he was a significant part of leading that evolution.

To name only a few of the thousands of projects he contributed to, he was the lead Project Manager on the firm’s tallest structure at the time, the Takashimaya Building on Fifth Avenue (when Silman was known almost exclusively for its work on old buildings). He ran the entire team on the firm’s seminal work at Highbridge I and II and many other significant renovation projects that led to the rebirth of numerous neighborhoods throughout New York City. This led to Joe spearheading all of Silman’s new construction affordable housing work throughout almost his entire career.

Joe was the first Silman person on site at the evaluation and rebuilding design effort after Hurricane Andrew in the Everglades, and later led the firm’s efforts after 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. His passion for participation in these city-changing efforts led to his providing industry leadership as an advocate for first responders.

When Bob asked him to take over as President in the early 2000s, he worked tirelessly to celebrate Bob’s legacy and our culture while working equally hard to ensure we always evolved, never coasted, and became the firm we are today. Throughout his career, Joe was often called upon by the industry for his leadership and always came through. He started as a volunteer teacher of underserved students through the AIA New York City Chapter (AIANY) and, through that work, joined the Board more than twenty years ago, a position he holds still. At the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY), he served as President and in other leadership roles but is most proud of his time as chair of the education fund, giving scholarships to high school students in need. Joe was also Vice President of the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE), and the recipient of their 2022 Member of the Year Award. To this day, he continues as a Board member of GHI, an organization that has saved countless lives through their work in disaster mitigation for developing countries.

Most of all, I will probably be the one to miss Joe more than anyone else in the firm or industry. From the very first day I arrived at the office in 1988, my “older brother” taught me more than engineering and I never took for granted that Joe’s presence – whether as PM above me, or mentor, or President – allowed me to do my thing and not worry about so many important issues confronting the firm. Having now taken over the senior leadership role, I can say, with certainty, that I truly had no idea just how much Joe did to ensure the freedom we all had, day after day, to create and bring joy.

In the end, he was simply inspired by Bob to do good throughout his career and help others, both inside and outside the firm.

His grace, intelligence, wit, and voice will be missed by all of us every day. At the same time, we will gain solace by knowing that he gets to enjoy time with his family, who were always at the forefront of his life, and his next chapter. Simply put, there is nobody, other than Bob himself, who has had as big an impact on the legacy of Silman than Joe Tortorella.

As Joe signs off on every message…


Nat Oppenheimer
Senior Vice President
Silman, A TYLin Company

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