The distinctive curves of the Walt Disney Concert Hall have been likened to a ship at full sail, a flower and a "Symphony in Steel," the title of a book on the structure. Whatever the description, the unique hall has quickly become a symbol of Los Angeles. The project began in 1987 with a $50 million donation from Lillian Disney, the widow of the animation pioneer, and was completed 16 years later at a price of $274 million. The curvilinear design provides one of the best acoustical venues in the world.

Developer: Walt Disney Concert Hall Inc., Los Angeles
Architect: Gehry Partners LLP, Los Angeles
Contractor: M.A. Mortenson Co., Minneapolis
Engineer: John A. Martin Associates, Los Angeles

Trailer Martin, so nick-named because he followed in his father's footsteps in the family engineering business, originally wanted to be a nuclear physicist.

That is until he went off to Brown University in the mid-1960s and discovered, as he puts it, that "my personality didn't fit physics."

Switching majors for his sophomore year, he earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering at Brown then returned to California to earn his master's degree at Calstate Long Beach in 1970 while working at his father's engineering firm.

A year later, the Sylmar earthquake, which killed 65 people in and around the San Fernando Valley on Feb. 9, 1971, helped Martin to find his engineering niche.

"Sylmar made a big impression on me," Martin said. "It really marked the beginning of modern seismic engineering. We've gone from using slide rules to sophisticated computer modeling that enables us to test all sorts of conditions a building might be subjected to."

Today, John A. Martin & Associates, which the now 61-year-old Martin took over after his father's death, is one of the nation's largest privately owned structural engineering and design firms, with a staff of more than 110 people in L.A. and more 400 nationwide, with affiliate offices in every state.

Locally, Martin and his team have become the go-to guys when a tricky construction project needs to be particularly earthquake resistant. In addition to the Disney Concert Hall, Martin also was structural engineer of record for Staples Arena and the soon-to-open Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

"I worry sometimes," said Martin, noting the number of buildings in the county that are likely to fail when the Big One finally hits the L.A. basin. "Buildings are lot like bridges a lot of dangerous bridges out there, but no one cares until one falls into a river."


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