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Felix Samuely


Felix Samuely's engineering achievements, his innovative use of all types of construction materials and design ingenuity was on a par with Ove Arup, NCE's Civil of the Century (see page 4). His ideas on the design of framed structures were to influence later generations of structural engineers.

Samuely gave architects the confidence to express the structure of a building as its architectural statement. He collaborated with architects including Wells Coates, Emberton, Arthur Korn, Goodhardt-Rendell, Denys Lasdun, the practice of Connell, Ward & Lucas and Eero Saarinen.

He was happy designing in any material, whether it was steel, concrete or even reinforced brick. Can that be said of many consulting engineers today? In 1949 Samuely designed the first post-tensioned concrete beam foundation for the Malago factory building in Bristol.

He also used prestressing as continuity ties for assembling a composite floor using precast floor planks; designed truss sections in precast concrete that looked as slim as steelwork, wrote a paper on 'Speed in Design' and fast build way back in 1945 and was the first engineer to pioneer an all welded, steel frame building structure.

An Austrian Jew, Samuely arrived in London in 1933 after working in China. At contractor JL Kier he was given the task of doing the calculations for Lubetkin's famous Penguin Pool at London Zoo. A year later he decided to go it alone and to set up the practice of FJ Samuely.

Sam Price, of Price & Myers says: 'When I graduated from Cambridge in 1960 my don said to me that there were only two engineering practices worth joining, Samuely and Arup. They were the best. Samuely had died a year or so before I graduated so I decided to join Arup. It could so easily have been otherwise.'

Samuely will be remembered for his great influence on architecture during a time when the concept of a modern building was changing from a facade into a totally transparent structure.

The Skylon, built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain using prestressing cables to stay the structure was designed by him. So was the prestressed timber folded plate roof of St Clement Dane Comprehensive School, in Chalfont St Giles (1953) where balloon wire was improvised for the cables.

Elsewhere he proposed the one storey high steel Vierendeel truss to support external columns at Simpsons in Piccadilly in 1936. He also contributed greatly to the understanding of welded steel structures.

But Samuely will be revered for his collaboration with Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff in designing the first all welded steel frame building in England, when the De la Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea was completed in 1934. Samuely's original concept for competition entry showed the structure to be a reinforced concrete frame, but he redesigned it in steel to save money. It is regarded as one of the finest modern buildings of its time.

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