Carnegie Mellon University

NIKE HOUSE OF INNOVATION NYC - Photograph by Whitney Starbuck Boykin

April 24, 2019

Beyond the Surface: Bringing Beauty and Structure to Light

David Bott (CMU BArch ’97, BS CEE ’98), grew up fascinated with the idea of creating spaces, how things were designed and how they were built. While his career path may be slightly different than he had envisioned as a young man, there can be no doubt that he is creating a legacy of iconic and unique spaces.

Amid the towering buildings and memorials in New York City’s World Trade Center complex, sits the Oculus, the transportation hub that gives entry to the PATH train and a sprawling underground shopping mall. The unique Santiago Calatrava-designed steel and glass structure features a 330-foot long operable skylight. Bott was part of the Heintges Consulting Architects & Engineers team which helped design and engineer the building’s steel and glass curtain wall and the skylight.

Because we design and engineer custom façades, they are always unique. They aren’t just façades you buy off the shelf,” he says. “Our capabilities have enabled us to work with some of the greatest architects of the world.”

Bott says that when he came to CMU to study architecture, he assumed that architects designed the entire building, including the structure. He admired architect E. Fay Jones, who created Thorncrown Chapel in Arkansas, which looks like an open-air structure but is glass-enclosed with the wood structural design elements exposed. He was also influenced by Calatrava, who, because he is an engineer, was able to manipulate the structures of his buildings and bridges to achieve his design intent.

“They are both architects whose aesthetics are very much about expressing the structure,” Bott says. “When I discovered that they were also engineers, I realized that their engineering knowledge is what allowed them to effectively integrate the building structure directly into their designs, so that the structure was not an afterthought hidden behind the architecture. The structure was the architecture."

He came to believe that studying architecture alone gave him only a surface understanding of the building structure, so he began to pursue studies in engineering as well. He was encouraged by Professor Delbert Highlands to study engineering like an engineer, divorced from architecture, and to merge the two disciplines later. Professor Irving Oppenheim developed a curriculum for him, which allowed him to begin taking engineering classes as he completed his architecture degree, in order to streamline completion of both degrees.

“The engineering curriculum and courses I took at Carnegie Mellon were some of the best classes I took,” says Bott. “I got so much out of engineering. What we did at CMU was amazing.”

CEE Professor Larry Cartwright, who passed away in 2016, conducted a class Bott says was especially influential.

“In the course, we would study building materials such as steel and concrete, make objects out of them, physically break them, and then assess how they failed,” Bott says. “In learning about how things break you learn a lot about how to make them safe, or how to ensure that they fail in a safe and controllable way. That informs what I am focused on now, which is working with glass as a structural element.”

Bott highlights the new Nike flagship store in New York City, with its unique rippled glass façade his firm helped develop, in explaining how glass can serve as both artistic and structural feature to a building or space. The structural glass staircase and bridge his firm engineered for the new U.S. Embassy in London, where they did not work on the façade, is another project about which he is especially proud.

“I recently got to visit,” he says. “It was amazing not only to see it constructed, but to jump up and down on the glass. It didn’t break!”

Nike House of Innovation NYC Photograph by Whitney Starbuck Boykin