Former Arup Co-chairman passes away aged 94

14 January 2019 3 min. read
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Sir Jack Zunz, a veteran Partner with engineering consultancy Arup, has passed away at 94 years old. The former Co-chairman of the Ove Arup Partnership is renowned as the man who oversaw the completion of the Sydney Opera House, alongside a number of other major global projects during his long career.

Born to a Jewish family in Germany in 1923, Jack Zunz was raised in South Africa, serving with the nation’s army during the Second World War. In 1950, Zunz moved to London to join Anglo-Danish Ove Arup, and his new team of Civil and Structural Engineering consultants. The group would go on to become the consulting firm known today simply as Arup.

Arup’s reputation for engineering innovation grew quickly. In 1957, this saw a project handed to the firm to find a way to complete the ambitious designs of the Sydney Opera House. Danish architect Jørn Utzon had won a competition in 1957 with a scheme resembling a Mayan temple topped by petal-like shell roofs, which could be enjoyed from any angle, but the engineering of such a unique idea had proved almost impossible.Former Arup Co-chairman passes away aged 94Indeed, the story goes that Ove Arup’s right-hand man, Ronald Jenkins, could not make the structural calculations for the roof work, leading to his resignation from the project. The answer eventually came when Utzon, reworked the design to a sail-like image in collaboration with Zunz, who would now oversee the project’s completion. The new building eventually opened in 1973, and was greeted by international acclaim. By this time, Zunz was already a Senior Partner at the firm in the UK capital. Just four years later, Zunz became Chairman of Ove Arup and Partners until 1984, when he took on the role of the whole Arup group until 1989.

In his engineering capacity, meanwhile, Zunz would go on to oversee a number of other landmark projects, including Britannic House for BP, the Standard Bank building in Johannesburg, the Emley Moor transmitting station, the headquarters building for the HSBC Main Building, and the first Stansted Airport Terminal. He was also centrally involved in developing the technical skills of the firm, and helped build a framework for growing the number of talented engineers to develop their skills with Arup. He was knighted in 1989, a year after receiving the Institution of Structural Engineers’ gold medal, before retiring in Surrey.

Zunz passed away shortly before what would have been his 95th birthday, in December 2018. He is survived by his wife Babs, and daughters Laura and Leslie.

Talking to, Norman Foster, who worked with Zunz, remembered him as “a rare individual who so expertly combined the essence of engineering and design as a seamless whole.” He added, “His approach was one of collaboration… balanced with an integrity and commitment that went beyond the normal professional boundaries… He encouraged and brought forth new generations of influential and innovative engineers like Peter Rice and Tony Fitzpatrick... I referred to Jack recently as a father figure and one of his protegés, Chris Wise, corrected me and said ‘no, he was more like an uncle – commanding and wise’.”

Related: Arup grows UK revenues by nearly 4% to £1.6 billion.