An Engineer and His Bridges: A Profile of Dr. Christian Menn

For the past 11 years, ROADS & BRIDGES Magazine has beena proud sponsor of The Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania's John A. Roebling Medal for lifetime achievement in bridge engineering. During the International Bridge Conference in Pittsburgh in June, the Roebling Medal was awarded to Dr. Christian Menn of Chur, Switzerland.

Larry Flynn / December 28, 2000

In his more than 40
years of service to the bridge industry Dr. Menn has become a
well-known figure in bridge engineering and design. Although the
greatest number of his bridges have been constructed in his
native Switzerland and Western Europe, the luncheon at which he
received the award was stocked with admiring colleagues from the
U.S. and other parts of the world. The term "legend" was used
more than once to describe the man his fellow engineers had come
to honor.

Dr. Menn received his civil engineering degree in
1950 and his Ph.D. in 1956 from the Swiss Federal Institute of
Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland. Between 1952 and 1956,
after serving in the private sector in Switzerland, Dr. Menn was
an assistant professor in the institute's department of
structural engineering. In 1957, after working for 10 months
with a contractor in Paris, he returned to the private sector.
In Kohr, Switzerland, he owned his own structural engineering
consulting firm.

These were formative years for Menn. He
told ROADS & BRIDGES, that although he preferred bridge design
to building design, one of his first and greatest role models
was the Italian engineer and architect Pier Louigi Nervi. During
his time in Paris, Dr. Menn said his work on the Unesco Building
was heavily influenced by Nervi. "He is known for his reinforced
concrete buildings," said Dr. Menn. " I have very high
admiration for Narvie."

After his return to Switzerland, Dr.
Menn's interests turned mainly to bridges. "I find bridges more
interesting than buildings," he said. "When you design bridges
you are absolutely free in your design. When you are designing
buildings you always are collaborating with architects. And
also, bridges are more attractive."

From 1971 until his
retirement in 1992, Dr. Menn was a professor of structural
engineering at ETH, specializing in bridge design. Today, he
continues to perform conceptual designs as a consultant.


Recently, he has collaborated on two major
bridge projects in the U.S.: Boston's Charles River Bridge and
the new eastern half of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
While in the U.S. to accept his award, he attended meetings in
Boston and San Francisco.

His involvement with the design of
the Charles River Bridge occurred by chance more than four years
ago. Invited to Harvard to lecture, an architect asked him to
join him on a trip to Boston's South Station where he met with
officials from Parsons Brinckerhoff and subsequently was asked
to become involved in the design team.

"The Charles River
Bridge is a very interesting structure," said Dr. Menn. "A
cable-stayed bridge, it is very wide with eight lanes for I-93.
There are an additional two lanes for on and off ramps."

the Bay Bridge, he has participated as a member of a panel that
reviewed potential designs for the section of the bridge
replacing the eastern cantilever half of the double-decker
bridge that was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Although Caltrans' proposed a cantilever bridge, his thoughts
are that a cable-stayed bridge ultimately will be the choice.

His efforts with the two bridge projects have been so well
received that he has an agreement with Parsons and HNTB to
collaborate on additional projects.

In his distinguished
career, Dr. Menn has designed numerous bridges, as well as
commercial buildings, and has, since 1971, served as consultant
to the Cantonal Highway Departments for design and execution of
the departments' bridge projects in Switzerland.

Designs of

Some of Dr. Menn's most notable bridge designs include:

-- The Rhine River Bridge at Reichenau. At the time, the
early 1960s, the structure was the first arch bridge with
partially prestressed stiffening girders.

-- The Hardturm
Viaduct, a 1,000-m-long railroad bridge in Zurich.

-- The
Felsenau Bridge built in Bern, Switzerland in 1972. The first
single-celled, six-lane segmental concrete box girder. At the
time, the structure was the longest jointless concrete bridge at
1,100 m.

"The Felsenau Bridge is perhaps the most important
bridge that I have designed," said Dr. Menn. "It is in the
capital of my native country and the bridge is part of a major
freeway that connects Bern to Geneva."

Projects upon which
Dr. Menn has been the expert for the elaboration of design
fundamentals and the entire examination of the calculations and
drawing of extraordinary bridges include:

-- The
2,000-m-long Las de la Gruyre Viaduct;

-- The 3,000-m-long
Slope Bridge at Beckenried; and

-- The cable-stayed Rhine
Bridge at Diepoldsau.

What of the future of bridge design?
"There are always new designs," he said. "Not so many as during
the '60s and '70s, but there are always new bridges needed."

A proponent of the use of steel and concrete together on
bridges, he points to the Charles River Bridge as an example.
"One should use the most appropriate building material for a
bridge," he said. "I like steel and concrete.

"In my
opinion, the Bay Bridge should be a mix of steel and concrete.
The materials are well suited for big span structures such as
this. Steel is lighter than concrete and more effective in an
earthquake area."

Dr. Menn's research has focused on the
durability of reinforced and prestressed concrete structures
including crack control, minimum reinforcement, influence of
crack width on corrosion. In addition, his work has involved
non-linear computer programming in the areas of geometrical and
material non-linearity.

Dr. Menn is a member of the Swiss
Society of Civil Engineers (SIA), the Swiss Trade Group for
Bridge and Building Engineering (FBH) and the International
Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE). He is
a past president of the Swiss Code-Committee for Reinforced and
Prestressed Concrete Structures. He also is a member of the FBH
board and a member of the ETH Research Committee.

In 1982 in
Hamburg, Germany, Dr. Menn was awarded the
Fritz-Schumacher-Preis Medal for outstanding bridge design.

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