The Construction History Society of America hosts Biennial Meetings in even years.  Past Biennial Meetings have been held in Atlanta (2008), Philadelphia (2010), Boston (2012), Minneapolis (2014), and Austin, Texas (2016), which each have attracted approximately two hundred attendees.  CHSA also organizes regional meetings and symposia, and hosted the 5th International Congress on Construction History in Chicago in June 2015.

Construction History on the Frontier, Seattle, July 20-22, 2017

The 2017 Construction History Society of America Members Meeting will go to the frontier. Hosted by the Departments of Construction Management, Architecture, and the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington, this meeting will explore the innovative construction history of the west coast.  With the region shaped first by pioneering families and resource extraction economies and later transportation networks and local urban growth, presentations of this conference reflect this growth.

Leading construction historians and independent scholars will address the theme of Construction History on the Frontier – exploring construction history in the American West, with particular focus on Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. With topics interesting to architects, engineers, construction historians as well as subcontractors and suppliers, this multi-track program begins the afternoon of Thursday, July 20th and runs until noon on Saturday, July 22nd.

Keynote speakers will anchor the conference, with presentations on central historical themes. Our plenary session presentations will address a broader scope of construction history in the west. Presentations will discuss the massive infrastructure that made life in the west possible, such as hydroelectric dams (like the Grand Coulee Dam), bridges over waterways of the Puget Sound (like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge), and military encampments (like Fort Casey) – important markers of development.  The region is also famous for its use of timber, first as logging old growth woods, then innovating engineered wood products. Presentations will show this history while indicating how this process continues today.  Other presentations will dive into the personalities of builders on the frontier, older methods of construction that have been forgotten, and periods of innovation in specific materials (like precast concrete). Registration opens March 1, 2017.  For more information, visit the Seattle meeting page.

Keynote presentations:

Jeffrey Karl Ochsner FAIA, professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington, will discuss the architectural history of the region through the lens of construction history.  In the Northwest, changing styles often accompanied a change in building material, charting the progression of architecture from the 19th century to today. Ochsner served as Chair of the Department of Architecture from 1996 to 2002 and is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Built Environments. He is author of H. H. Richardson: Complete Architectural Works (1982), editor and co-author of Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects, co-author of Distant Corner: Seattle Architects and the Legacy of H. H. Richardson (2003), and author of Lionel H. Pries, Architect, Artist, Educator: From Arts & Crafts to Modern Architecture (2007), and Furniture Studio: Materials, Craft, and Architecture (2012). He has published articles in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, JAE: Journal of Architectural Education, Fabrications, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, American Imago, ARCADE and other journals. He has twice won the College of Built Environments Lionel Pries Award for teaching excellence and is a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and a recipient of the Association of College Schools of Architecture (ACSA) Distinguished Professor Award.

Knute “Skip” Berger, journalist and historian, will speak on the history of the Seattle Space Needle – the iconic, sky-line defining monument of the city.  Berger will discuss how the Space Needle enabled Seattle to be perceived as being on the cutting edge of technology, a high-tech branding that continues today. Berger is a Seattle author, columnist, and commentator. He is the award-winning “Mossback” columnist for the online non-profit news site where he focuses on the intersection of Pacific Northwest politics and heritage; Editor-at-Large and columnist for Seattle magazine; and a regular commentator on Seattle’s NPR affiliate KUOW-FM. He is consulting historian for the Space Needle. His books include the ebook Roots of Tomorrow: Tales of Early Seattle Urbanism (2014), Space Needle, Spirit of Seattle (2012) and Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes on Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps and the Myth of Seattle Nice (2009). He also has long established interests in world’s fairs (he’s attended nine) and time capsules (he was chief “architect” of the Washington Centennial Time Capsule Project).

Jon Magnusson, former CEO of Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA), comes from a long family history of construction in the Northwest. Magnusson, currently Senior Principal at MKA, went from walking around construction sites as a boy to leading a world-renown structural engineering firm responsible for iconic works in the Northwest and around the world.  Projects include the Seattle Public Library, Safeco Field, Century Link Field, Experience Music Project, Key Arena, Seattle Federal Courthouse, Husky Stadium, and Benaroya Hall.  He received the Designer Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Steel Construction, is an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects, and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He served as CEO of MKA for 25 years. The firm was founded in Seattle in 1920 and has provided engineering services in 46 states and 54 countries from its headquarters in Seattle.

Michael Lombardi, historian at Boeing, will present the history of the most important company in the history of the northwest. Boeing’s innovation has driven the Northwest economy for decades, providing a highly-trained work force, and continuing to innovate with new materials and processes in creating airplanes. Lombardi started at Boeing in 1979 and has been the Senior Corporate Historian for the Boeing Company for the last 20 years. He is also the corporate historian for North American Aviation and manager of Boeing Historical Services which includes the company’s historical archives. He has presented lectures on aerospace history to the AIAA, the Royal Aeronautical Society, The Air League of the UK and several air museums. He is a regular contributor to the Boeing Frontiers magazine and has published a book on the history of Strategic Airpower. Lombardi is currently working on a history of Boeing Plant 2 in Seattle. As a spokesperson for Boeing, Lombardi has appeared in documentaries for the Discovery Channel, PBS, Smithsonian Channel, and BBC as well as in Germany, Russia, Japan and China. He is also currently on the board of trustees for Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry and serves as a guest curator for the Museum of Flight.

This conference will provide a fascinating look at construction history.  See you in Seattle!


In addition to the Seattle meeting, several members of the Construction History Society of America will be presenting at construction history sessions or tracks at upcoming conferences in 2017.  These include:

  • SEI / ASCE Structures Congress, April 6, 2017, Denver, Colorado.  Still in Use: Structural Engineering History and Contemporary Design Practice. “The Design Methods of John A. Roebling: 19th Century Paradigms for 21st Century Structures” by Stephen Buonopane, PhD, PE. “Early Twentieth Century Efforts and Twenty-First Century Structural Engineering Licensure” by Marci S. Uihlein, P.E. “Material Efficiency through Structural Form: The History and Future of Thin Shell Construction” by Tyler Sprague, PE., Ph.D., LEED AP. “The Bridge Designs of David B. Steinman” by Robert Dermody, AIA, NCARB. “Origins of the Profession: History of Structural Engineering and Design” by Armando Plata, PE, AIA, LEED AP BD+C.

We are also planning the 6th Biennial Meeting to be held in 2018.