Christopher O'Hara, PE, SECB
Chris O'Hara's youthful fascination with bridges ultimately led to his greatest passion—creating masterful structures for beautifully designed architecture. From underground power substations in New York City's subway system to floating boardwalks and the 'Twister Ride it Out' amusement park ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, Chris was exposed to the complexity of joinery and how things go together early in his career. His work as part of numerous fully integrated teams—with common and uncommon building materials, and direct access to fabricators and erectors in the field—also brought him critical foundational experience.
Soon after graduating in 1995 with a Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Notre Dame, Chris joined M.G. McLaren Consulting Engineers and was quickly singled out as a fast learner and natural designer. Drawn to complex challenges, special structures and buildings demanding unconventional solutions, he was consistently placed on teams in need of non-linear thinking.
During his first few years as a structural engineer, Chris also expanded his natural technical ability with a specialization he remains highly respected for today—structural glass and façade design. Meticulously tutored by a brilliant engineer from Hungary, Chris was asked to design extremely complex structures for projects like New York's Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History and many of the early ground-breaking Pilkington Glass Systems projects in the United States. This experience provided him with the acumen to handle more conventional structures with ease.
By the time Chris joined London-based Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners in 1998 as the firm's first American hired to build a United States practice based in Manhattan, his ability to tackle dynamic structures, narrow clearances, space limitations, momentum issues, atypical forces and uncommon welding and bolting details was well recognized by his peers.
But, it was Chris' work with Raphael Viñoly—helping the world-renowned architect push the envelope on numerous competitions and projects—that defined his professional vision for the future. As the project lead on Viñoly's David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh—which required designing an extremely challenging suspended cable roof system similar to connecting 16 suspension bridges—and the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, Chris' daily access to Viñoly allowed him to learn how critical the minutest structural detail can be to the architecture of a project. Ultimately, due to the size and scale of these buildings, the structural engineering solutions Chris proposed helped allow the full expression of this brilliant designer's architectural vision to be manifested.
Chris' work on other notable theatre and cultural projects—and the intensely collaborative approach experienced while working on projects like the 2003 European Cultural Exhibit, Rock Valley College's Starlight Theatre and multiple theatre remodels on and off Broadway—would ultimately become a cornerstone for Studio NYL's approach today. Numerous structural glazing projects for other well-known designers like the former Polshek Partnership Architects [now Ennead] and Kohn Pederson Fox also helped form his strong technical foundation.
While Chris had planned a move to Boulder in the fall of 2001, he postponed his trip to respond to a call for volunteers from the Structural Engineers Association of New York immediately following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11th. Working 12-hour shifts under the supervision of the Thorton Tomassetti team during the first few weeks after the attacks, he helped firemen with safety issues related to their search and rescue efforts, as well as the dismantling of the pile, building demolition exercises and assessing some of the site's adjacent structures.
Chris ultimately joined Julian at Loris and Associates in November 2001. Their combined desire to collaborate with leading regional architects led to the launch of Studio NYL in February 2004. Today, Chris oversees all of the firm's Building Information Modeling [BIM], an integral part of the firm's work. Further, as an early practitioner of REVIT and other advanced analytical programs; the design of complex geometries in BIM platforms and their integration with analysis engines; and direct-to-fabrication CAD/CAM software programs, Chris' skills have helped Studio NYL stand out in the U.S. and internationally. Groundbreaking projects demonstrating these skills include the Lindsey Flanigan Courthouse façade in downtown Denver, the Marquez Hall at Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado and the stunning curvilinear Liverpool Flagship store in Mexico City. Chris' work on the integration of multiple design software programs and the use of complex forms has also drawn the attention of Autodesk, which has used examples of his work in advertisements and educational seminars.
Since moving to Colorado, Chris has been very active in the engineering and design community as a board member of the Structural Engineers Association of Colorado’s Emergency Response and Architectural Liaison committees, a guest lecturer at the University of Colorado's undergraduate and graduate architecture and engineering programs, and working with design build studios with the integration of structure inside their design studios and on over a dozen actual built works. Chris is also a frequent lecturer for the American Institute of Architect's (AIA) continuing education programs. In 2011, Chris became a board member of the Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative (NASHI), a multidisciplinary program created at the University of Colorado-Boulder to partner with Native Americans in achieving culturally appropriate, affordable housing solutions for struggling reservations across the West.
In short, Chris is enthusiastic about applying the technologies and approaches he has learned around the world in the most regionally appropriate way. With experience from the deserts of Abu Dhabi and dense urban environment of Mexico City, to the tropical shores of Barbados and rugged mountains of Colorado, his passion for architecture, and exposure to a wide variety of structural systems have allowed him to master both large and small projects with unique complexities. This, as well as the elaborate structures that Chris has always been fascinated by, bring Studio NYL continued opportunities to transform the firm's local structural experience into global architectural solutions that not only set new standards, but raise the bar.
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