Pacific Science Center
Economy of Form and Construction
House on Bainbridge Island
Museum of Flight
Bainbridge Island High School Grandstand
The Love of Mountain Climbing
Educated in the Midwest, structural engineer John “Jack” Christiansen made a significant and unique impact on the built environment in the Pacific Northwest. He attended the University of Illinois where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Architectural Engineering in 1949. He then attended Northwestern University where he acquired a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering in 1950. After working for various engineering firms from 1950 to 1961, Christiansen joined the engineering firm of Skilling & Helle in 1962 where he rose to become a senior partner and later president. During his time at Skilling, Helle, Christiansen & Robertson (1962-1983), the firm assisted in the design many notable structures around the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Christiansen’s structural design work includes the Pacific Science Center (1962, originally the U.S. Science Pavilion for the Seattle World’s Fair), Seattle First National Bank Building (1969), Rainier Bank Tower (1977), Safeco Office Tower (1975), the King County Jail (1971), the Museum of Flight (1975-1987), the Nalley Valley Viaduct (1969, demolished), and the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.
Outside of Washington State projects include the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton (1965), the Saudi Royal Naval Stadium in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, the Baltimore Convention Center (1979), the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (1973), and the Japanese Cultural Center in San Francisco (1973). The firm’s best known structural design work, however, is New York City’s World Trade Center (1973, destroyed 9/11/2001).
Christiansen himself is best known for his work on thin-shell concrete designs. He is credited with being one of the top six thin-shell concrete designers in the world. His notable projects include the Green Lake Pool (1954) the largest intermediate thin-shell cylindrical barrel in the world at the time of construction, the Seattle School District Warehouse (1955, demolished); the Yakima Valley Jr. High School Gymnasium (1956), the first thin-shell pre-stressed edge beams in the United States; the King County Airport Hangar at Boeing Field (1962, demolished); the award-winning Rivergate Exhibit Facility in New Orleans (1968); the Federal Building for Expo ’74 in Spokane; the Kingdome (1976, demolished), which at 661 ft was the largest clear-span, concrete dome in the world; the SunDome Arena in Yakima (1988); and Bainbridge Island High School Grandstand (1990).
Christiansen retired from Skilling Helle & Christiansen in 1983 and then taught at the University of Washington as an affiliate professor from 1984 to 1987. From 1988 to 2002, he worked as a consultant and the principal of his own firm located on Bainbridge Island. With licenses to practice in Washington, California, Alaska, and Hawaii and an impressive body of work, Christiansen was elected to the National Academy of Engineers and was named a Fellow in the American Concrete Institute and American Society of Civil Engineers.
Christiansen passed away in August 2017. [obituary]
– Michael C Houser
Oral History Project: Jack Christiansen participated in Docomomo US/WEWA’s oral history project. He was interviewed in June 2009. A complete transcript of the interview can be downloaded from the left sidebar. Segments from the interview can be heard by clicking the audio files on the left sidebar.