With Wind Wizard, Siobhan Roberts brings us the story of Alan Davenport (1932-2009), the father of modern wind engineering, who investigated how wind navigates the obstacle course of the earth’s natural and built environments—and how, when not properly heeded, wind causes buildings and bridges to teeter unduly, sway with abandon, and even collapse.
In 1964, Davenport received a confidential telephone call from two engineers requesting tests on a pair of towers that promised to be the tallest in the world. His resulting wind studies on New York’s World Trade Center advanced the art and science of wind engineering with one pioneering innovation after another. Establishing the first dedicated “boundary layer” wind tunnel laboratory for civil engineering structures, Davenport enabled the study of the atmospheric region from the earth’s surface to three thousand feet, where the air churns with turbulent eddies, the average wind speed increasing with height. The boundary layer wind tunnel mimics these windy marbled striations in order to test models of buildings and bridges that inevitably face the wind when built. Over the years, Davenport’s revolutionary lab investigated and improved the wind-worthiness of the world’s greatest structures, including the Sears Tower, the John Hancock Tower, Shanghai’s World Financial Center, the CN Tower, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, the Sunshine Skyway, and the proposed crossing for the Strait of Messina, linking Sicily with mainland Italy.
Chronicling Davenport’s innovations by analyzing select projects, this popular-science book gives an illuminating behind-the-scenes view into the practice of wind engineering, and insight into Davenport’s steadfast belief that there is neither a structure too tall nor too long, as long as it is supported by sound wind science.
Siobhan Roberts is a freelance science journalist who first wrote about Davenport and wind engineering for the New York Times. She is the author of King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, The Man Who Saved Geometry.
"This thoughtful biography captures the genius of Alan Davenport. Knowing Davenport for some forty years and working with him throughout the design of New York's World Trade Center, I witnessed his ascent as the leader in wind engineering, pioneering that science as we know and depend upon it today. Roberts skillfully tells the engineering story, uncovering fascinating details about Davenport and his work previously unknown to me. The reader emerges having enjoyed an intimate and informative visit with Davenport, one of the most interesting engineers of our time."—Les Robertson, recipient of the 2011 International Award of Merit in Structural Engineering
"Wind Wizard is a masterpiece of science writing at its best: informative, interesting, and entertaining. I warmly recommend it to anyone interested in the important issues of our time. Roberts is one of our best writers on science and mathematics today."—Amir Aczel, author of Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem
"Roberts has a rare gift for writing about technical matters without oversimplifying (and thus annoying the scientists) or becoming too abstruse (and thus putting off her readers). In Wind Wizard, that admirable balance is deftly used to create a fascinating portrait of a little-known scientist who was a giant in his field—a story which also serves as cautionary tale for a world apparently confronting ever more severe weather."—Marq de Villiers, author of Windswept: The Story of Wind and Weather
"Wind Wizard provides an excellent overview of wind engineering for general readers."—Henry Petroski, author of The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems
"This captivating and compelling biography looks at the life of Alan Davenport, and his significant contributions to wind engineering. Highlighting Davenport's unique approach and technical prowess, this book delves into the behind-the-scenes engineering on major architectural construction projects, such as the Twin Towers. A satisfying read."—Drew Landman, Old Dominion University