Why, Where, What?
Frank Newby


Frank Newby, 1986

©Monica Pidgeon

Throughout my professional life I've become increasingly interested in the role of engineering in architecture. This has come about from a whole series of lucky encounters. The first I suppose was when I left Trinity College, Cambridge, having read engineering, I first met an architectural student, a young lady who introduced me to Felix Samuely, and he employed me and introduced me to the latest forms of structure. He and Ove Arup were the two engineers before the War and just after the War who worked very closely with architects. That was my first lucky encounter. I worked with Samuely on a school at Woodberry Down, Finsbury, and he also introduced me to star beams. I always thought that beams went from A to B but he produced a beam which had three legs and was supported on A, B and C. It was a planer construction against a linear construction. The folded plates were space frames and 3—dimensional,


Star Beam Construction

©Felix J Samuely & Partners

... and in one of my first projects I had a problem of taking a covered way between two buildings and had to go round a tree, and my experience from that first project led me to a star—beam construction which, as you can see, success- fully went round Lhe tree in a very reasonable manner. The next encounter was with(fiedeon‘s 'Space Time and Architecture' and it was here that I became interested in the role of structure, particularly in exhibits where architects tended to want to produce the latest ideas of structure in their buildings. And(fiedeon became my bible and I studied it in great depth. At the same time I became Samuely's assistant and helped Samuely with his articles and his lectures and in one particular lecture he gave at the RIBA, I'd like to quote from that lecture: "I think that at the moment we're on the eve of a great revolution, and that hundreds of years hence people will look back on this time as being the one when construction changed over from plane to space and saw the birth of a new architecture." This in fact summed up the sort of experience that I had up to 1952, working with Samuely. I was really involved very closely with him and his work. My next encounter was knowing a secretary in the American Embassy who told me of scholarships to America, Marshall Aid scholarships to study technology in America. I applied and was granted a scholarship, went to America in 1952 in 4 October for a year. This I think was the most significant period of training or of experience. I first went to Chicago. I worked with Holabird Root and Burgee, the chief engineer took me round Chicago showing me the old skyscrapers and how they were built. I worked with Konrad Wachsmann at the Institute of Design in Chicago, and he taught me a great deal about joints. He was the expert on joints. I was with him for a few weeks and worked on the hangar that he was designing at the time. He also suggested that I worked with Saarinen and Eames, and it came about that I went to California, I worked on films with Eames, and then on to Saarinen where I was with him for only four weeks.

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