Nicholas Gianopulos, who passed away in July 21, 2018 at the age of 93, was a structural engineer that made some of Philadelphia’s architects projects erect and saved historic constructions from collapsing.
He was founder of an engineering firm (Keast & Hood) that became the go-to consultant for famous architects such as Louis Kahn, Robert Venturi, and Romaldo Giurgola. His capability of simplifying complex problems and his personality made the abovementioned architects return to him in search for guidance in projects such as Kahn’s National Assembly building in Bangladesh and Venturi, Rauch & Scott Brown’s Institute of Scientific Information in West Philadelphia. He was interested in preserving historic monuments by the early 1970s. David Hollenberg, an architect who began his career at Keast & Hood stated that he used his abilities to stabilize some of Philadelphia’s defining colonial-era buildings, including the towers at Independence Hall and Christ Church at the time when many architects neglected historic restoration.
Mr. Gianopulos, son of immigrant parents from Tripotamo, Greece, grew up in Philipsburg, Pa. Being an excellent student, he was encouraged to enroll in a Pennsylvania State University extension course in engineering which led to a summer job at a nearby firm. WW2 paused his career. Being deaf in one ear, he was declared unfit for military service and took a job at Bell Aircraft Corp. in Buffalo, where he made parts for military planes. However, his will to serve led to a surprising decision. He attempted and managed to enlist in 1944 by pretending not to have a hearing problem, and soon shipped out with the Second Army Battalion. According to his daughter, he received a Purple Heart during the Battle of the Bulge, one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war. In the early ’50s he moved to Philadelphia to take a job at an engineering firm.
A highlight of his career is the time when his firm supervised the renovations of the Academy of Music. During a concert of Luciano Pavarotti, a project engineer discovered a crack in the roof. Mr. Gianopulos, after inspecting the damage, advised the Academy's management to evacuate the building. Impressively, Luciano Pavarotti regrouped and moved that evening’s performance of L’Elisir d’Amore to the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul after the evacuation. The restoration was supposed to last for months. However, Mr. Gianopulos ordered an accelerated repair schedule. The Academy reopened in less than two weeks. Dean Doukakis, then a young engineer at Keast & Hood, and now a principal said: “We worked 24/7 for two weeks.” His daughter added: “After this, he spent his whole life looking for cracks.”
He lived in Gladwyne and commuted daily to his Center City office on the Route 44 bus, getting to know the regulars, until he retired in 2009. He was a teacher in architecture for almost three decades at the University of Pennsylvania. His daughter recalls: “He would wander the halls and talk to students about their thesis projects. All he asked was that they make sure their buildings could stand up.”