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WWU Alumnus Helped Design Space Needle

Gary Curtis, class of 1959, pictured with his wife Betty, helped design the Space Needle and other notable structures.

One of the most recognizable landmarks in Seattle is the Space Needle.  Numerous movies and television shows such as Sleepless in Seattle and Frasier show the famous Pacific Northwest landmark. Little did Gary Curtis, a 1959  graduate, know that after graduating from Walla Walla University’s School of Engineering that this familiar landmark would be one he would have on his list of projects.

“I never imagined I’d be doing that,” says Curtis, with a laugh. "What is cool about my job is that I have no idea what tomorrow will bring.” Curtis specifically worked on the Space Needle foundation design and top house design. He and the other four members of the team worked on designing and detailing the entire structure: legs, core and braces.

Curtis has designed countless domes, schools, churches, apartments and office buildings.  Another notable project: He and a partner designed and built an aluminum structure that holds up the famous “Roller Coaster Bridge” in Long Beach, Calif.  

 “Basically, I imagine structures and figure out how to make them stay there in adverse conditions,” says Curtis. He has also had the opportunity to be a forensic engineering consultant when structures have collapsed. Learning from other’s mistakes has taught him to be vigilant.

Curtis is a founder and works as a principle of Gossamer Space Frames, a company that designs three-dimensional structure frames.  Space frames are very lightweight, yet the structure can carry substantial weight. Since he works from home, Curtis commutes via email and video conference with his Gossamer Space Frames partners in California.  

Curtis and his team have ongoing solar projects in Nevada, Spain, Florida, Arizona, and California. Some of these projects required them to build solar troughs, which are thermal energy collectors. Before Gossamer Space Frames started working on the project, making the troughs wasn’t economically competitive.

“I really love problems. I get excited about problems and try to fix them. With today’s engineering tools, structures can be three-dimensional puzzles and you can push and pull them to see how they behave,” says Curtis. To be an engineer, “you have to work really hard and produce results, not just be smart,” Curtis says.  “Understand engineering fundamentals and be able to explain them in everyday terms.”

 “I have had amazing opportunities in my life and was able to take every one of them,” says Curtis.


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Last update on April 27, 2010