Tony Fitzpatrick

Structural engineer who cured the Millennium Bridge of its wobble
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The Independent Online

Anthony James Fitzpatrick, engineer: born London 9 June 1951; structural engineer, Ove Arup & Partners (later Arup) 1972-2003, director 1986-2003, chairman, Building Engineering Europe 1997-2001, chairman, Americas Division 2001-2003; married (one son, three daughters); died Fresno, California 26 July 2003.

In an era of high-profile "signature" architects, it is rare to find a structural engineer of comparable prominence. Tony Fitzpatrick was one such.

In 1972 he joined the global engineering consultancy Ove Arup & Partners (later known as Arup) and began a 30-year career with the firm, variously in Europe, the Middle East, East Asia, and the United States. He worked closely with many of those signature architects, including Norman Foster (now Lord Foster of Thames Bank), Richard Rogers (Lord Rogers of Riverside), Jean Nouvel and Renzo Piano. At the time of his death, Fitzpatrick was a member of the Arup Group board, and had been chairman of its Americas Division for the past two years.

His two favourite projects were both with Foster and Partners - the Hongkong Bank in Hong Kong, in the early 1980s, and the Millennium Bridge in London. He said:

Both were fantastic learning experiences where I felt I made a real difference, and that is really important to me. These projects justified my decision to become an engineer, that my contribution to the environment has made the world a little better.

On the Millennium Bridge he drove Arup's teamwork to discern the cause of, and discover the cure for, the infamous "wobble". The problem was solved with the unobtrusive addition of passive dampers to absorb the lateral oscillations induced by the large numbers of pedestrians. Fitzpatrick's commitment to reaffirming the firm's reputation for engineering excellence, to successfully completing this key pedestrian crossing of the Thames in central London, and to making available to the engineering fraternity worldwide what had been discovered in solving the problem, was successful on all counts.

His work on the Hongkong Bank exemplified his contribution to high-rise construction. The structural concept - five sets of two-storey trusses from which groups of column-free floors were suspended, all supported by two rows of four massive steel masts 180m high - gave this then state-of-the-art building its unique profile.

On a subsequent project with Foster, Century Tower in Tokyo (1991), Fitzpatrick was faced with the challenge of designing a high-rise block with long-span column-free floors in a highly seismic zone. He developed the principle of "eccentrically braced frames", each two storeys in height, in which sections of the main beams were unbraced and left free to flex to absorb earthquake impacts. As with the Hongkong Bank, intermediate floors were suspended, without interruptions to the space, within the structural frames.

Another revolutionary project - which sadly remained unbuilt - was Jean Nouvel's La Tour Sans Fin in Paris, an 80-storey, 400m tower would have been only 30m in diameter. To counter its inevitable tendency to sway, Fitzpatrick's structural design combined a circular concrete perimeter frame, shaped to reduce wind forces to a minimum, with a mass damper located within the upper part of the building and "tuned" to its natural frequency of lateral movement to impart additional stability.

Speaking about his work recently, Fitzpatrick said:

What attracted me to engineering was the ability to achieve a physical product, something you could touch and feel. I feel lucky to be here at this time, the design industry is at a stage where it is focusing more and more on highly creative, quality design solutions. My father told me it was much better to be born lucky than rich, and that he hoped I was lucky as we certainly weren't rich . . . I think I'm lucky.

Anthony James Fitzpatrick was born in London in 1951, to an English father (of Irish extraction) and an Italian mother, and spent extended vacations during his early life in Florence. After attending grammar school in East London he studied engineering at Leeds University, where he graduated in 1972 with a First, as well as winning the Holst Prize for civil engineering. He joined Arup the same year.

Tony Fitzpatrick could be inspiring, argumentative, disconcerting, mischievous and formidable, and often all of those things in the same five minutes. He was a leader who for once fully deserved the overworked epithet "charismatic". His incisive mind enabled him to discern the essence of and creatively solve almost any challenge. His vitality and enthusiasm were infectious, affecting everyone who worked with him, and he had an uncanny ability to make key contributions that changed the design direction of many important projects.

He characteristically embraced the possibilities of high tech communications - his was a genuinely "paperless office" - but with his commitment to sustainability, his favourite mode of transport was his bicycle, on which he met his death. When asked once what innovation or invention he would not be without, his answer was "the derailleur - (that's the dangly bit at the back of a bicycle which changes the gears!)". As to what innovation or invention he would like to see - "wireless mega bandwidth, so I can download a five megabyte file on an aeroplane wirelessly".

Already a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (1993) and of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1999), in 2002 he was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, still a rare honour for an engineer.

David J. Brown