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Christian Menn (March 3, 1927 – July 16, 2018) was a Swiss bridge designer. He led his own engineering company in Chur from 1957–1971. From 1971 until his retirement in 1992, he was a professor of structural engineering at ETH Zurich, specializing in bridge design. In his retirement years, he continued to be a consulting engineer in private practice.
Education and practical training
Born in Meiringen, Canton of Bern, Menn graduated from high school (Kantonsschule Chur) in 1946, followed by structural engineering studies at ETH Zurich. He received a diploma as Bauingenieur (civil engineer) in 1950. From 1950 through 1953 he worked for construction engineering companies. Then, he returned to ETH Zurich to become assistant to Pierre Lardy, a well-known professor of structural engineering, and was awarded a PhD degree in 1956. He gained practical experience working for companies in Paris and Bern before starting his own consulting company in 1957.
Menn’s bridges had to be designed for the times: "Structural Analysis found itself at the time in the transition from descriptive graphical analysis to abstract analytical statics". (Menn, 2002) Menn worked very closely with Pierre Lardy during the beginning of his career, emphasizing the design of structures based on aesthetics and economy. Menn believed that economy, serviceability and safety of the bridge would revolve around aesthetics.
Menn has stated that an engineer achieves safety and serviceability by understanding the underlying scientific principles, but that economy and elegance are achieved through non-scientific ideas. An engineer must also have aesthetic creativity. Menn describes his bridges with abstract theoretical models which allow him to analyze bridges and find stresses and distribution of forces within the structure. Building on this framework, he is able to devise numerical calculations which can eventually be used in computer modeling of the structures.
The important role of tourism in the Swiss economy has a strong influence on the types of bridges that are constructed. When choosing a bridge design, Swiss leaders prioritize the aesthetic characteristics of a bridge more highly than a country that is less tourism-driven. The need for visually appealing bridges afforded bridge designer Menn with a great opportunity. His use of pre-stressed concrete and the implementation of cable-stayed bridge decks give his designs great aesthetic appeal.
Christian Menn was a member of the Swiss Society of Civil Engineers (SIA), the Swiss Trade Group for Bridge and Building Engineering, International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE), and Swiss Code-Committee for Reinforced and Prestressed Concrete Structures. Before retirement, he was a member of the ETH research committee.
Menn worked with a young Miguel Rosales on the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, as part of the massive "Big Dig" project in Boston. This highly-visible structure has become an iconic landmark in the Boston skyline, and helped launch Rosales' career as a bridge designer, carrying the older designer's philosophy into the next generation of structural designers.
- Billingtion, David P. "The Art of Structural Design a Swiss Legacy", 1st ed. Vol. 1. Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Art Museum, 2003. 164-201.
- Fynn, Larry. (1997). "An Engineer and His Bridges" Roads & Bridges, Vol. 35, Issue 11, p41
- Bernstein, Fred. (2001). "Designer Quashes A Boston Bridge Party", New York Times. Aug 9, 2001. F5.
- Menn, Christian. (1990). Prestressed Concrete Bridges. Birkhauser Verlag, Basel, Switzerland.