Last month marked the anniversary of the birth of Chinese-American structural engineer T. Y. Lin, an influential visionary who was a pioneer in the use of prestressed concrete. Lin’s revolutionary work in simplifying the process for using prestressed concrete inspired modern structural design around the world and paved the way for thousands of structural engineers. He was also the first recipient of the ASCE Lifetime Achievement Award.
Tung-Yen Lin was born in Fuzhou, China on Nov. 14, 1912, and raised in Beijing where his father was a justice of the Supreme Court. At the age of 14, Lin entered Jiao Tong University’s Tangshan Engineering College, earning his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1931. That same year he began graduate study in civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, receiving his master’s degree in 1933.
Early in his career, Lin gained recognition in his field with his thesis on a direct method of moment distribution. His innovative paper advanced structural analysis and a segment of his paper was the first student thesis published by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Lin returned to China as an engineer with the Ministry of Railways in the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek. By the age of 25, he had risen to the position of chief bridge engineer of the Yunnan-Chongquing Railway, with the responsibility for the survey, design, and construction of more than 1,000 bridges throughout China’s mountainous regions. In 1946, Lin accepted an invitation to join the faculty at University of California, Berkeley. From 1946 until 1976, he served as a professor of Civil Engineering and also as director of the Structural Engineering Laboratory. In 1953, with a Fulbright Scholarship, Lin studied prestressed concrete at the University of Ghent in Belgium.
In 1954, to put his theories into practice, Lin founded T.Y. Lin Associates (now T. Y. Lin International), where he remained until 1992. Lin earned a reputation for combining grace and strength in his designs, which are reflected in a body of work including the Peace Pagoda in San Francisco’s Japantown, the elegant San Mateo Bridge, Taiwan’s Kuan Du Bridge, the roof of the National Racetrack in Caracas, Venezuela, and the column-free expanse within the Moscone Convention Center, the largest underground room in the world when it opened in 1982.
In 1957, Lin conceived the idea of a World Conference on Prestressed Concrete, which was attended by 1,200 engineers, scientists, and manufacturers. This international gathering, coupled with Lin’s ground-breaking work to perfect the use of prestressed concrete, changed the history of building construction. Recognized as an authority on long-span construction, Lin helped to integrate basic theories of prestressed and reinforced concrete, and developed the load balancing method for the design of frames, slabs, and thin shells of prestressed concrete.
Lin was the author of three acclaimed textbooks as well as more than 100 technical papers. His vision to bridge the United States and the Soviet Union across the Bering Strait brought him international praise for promoting peace, communication, and understanding between nations as well as providing a method of economic development for the region’s natural resources. Among his highest honors was the National Medal of Science conferred on him by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. In April 2000, T. Y. Lin received the first award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Design from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
On Nov. 15, 2003, one day after his 91st birthday, T. Y. Lin died at his El Cerrito, Calif. home — the world’s first residential structure made of prestressed concrete — after a fall resulting from a mild heart attack.