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Memorial Tributes, Volume 12
He also developed a close professional and personal association with Gordon Bunshaft. Paul, cigarette in hand, and Gordon, puffing on a pipe, would discuss, argue, and negotiate the subtleties of particular designs, each pushing the other to the limit. Gordon would take a fat pencil in hand, saying, “Now, don’t lose your lunch,” as he sketched a perfectly proportioned structure. “The column is too slender,” Paul would say, grab his own pencil, and overwrite Bunshaft’s sketch, saying, “The beam could be shaped like this.” Together they produced the iconic design for the Banque Lambert in Brussels with its delicate precast concrete façade joined by stainless steel hinges. This was followed by the One Liberty Place tower in Manhattan with the first-ever exposed-steel structure.
With Marcel Breuer, he designed the hyperbolic concrete faces of the St. Francis de Sales Church in Michigan. Following the precepts of Le Corbusier, he designed a number of structures with Jose Lluis Sert, and with Walter Gropius, he prepared the design for the University of Baghdad. When asked why he would undertake risky architectural commissions rather than more lucrative and less restrictive government research projects, Weidlinger said simply that he loved architecture and, “if a building is good and appropriate for its purpose, then I like to get involved.” His growing reputation also brought him into contact with Picasso, Dubuffet, and Noguchi, with whom he designed the structures for the large environmental sculptures that grace plazas in Chicago, New York, and Paris.
Ultimately, Paul’s deep interest in mathematics and physics led him in a different direction that was to engage him for 40 years. Using his structural expertise, he developed concepts to determine how close a structure could be to a nuclear explosion at ground zero and still survive. Together with Mario Salvadori, he showed that the answer is 50 times closer than was previously believed. From that early study in 1955, he established a practice that specialized in developing protective designs against the effects first of nuclear weapons and, more recently, conventional weapons and terrorist attacks. He was a major figure in this arena in his later years.
Weidlinger’s interest in the possibilities of engineering led him to develop advanced concepts for structures, some of