A richly drawn portrait of Alan Davenport (1932–2009), the maestro of “balancing the wind’s fickle forces.”
Davenport was not just a wind engineer, writes freelance science journalist Roberts (King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry, 2006); “he set the agenda for investigating the effects of wind on the natural and built environments,” chiefly through his path-breaking dedicated boundary layer wind tunnel. The tunnel measures the effects of wind from the earth’s surface to 3,000 feet in altitude, where it is at its most turbulent, churning in eddies, or, as Roberts puts it, “marbled striations of air.” This is only one example of the author’s lovely way with words, her artful ability to give the mind’s eye entry into difficult scientific terrain. She is at ease writing pure popular science—how Davenport put his wind tunnel to use to help understand sail design or the winds at Augusta National Golf Club’s famous 12th hole—as well as the dark matter of wind correlation and buffeting theory. There is a fine introduction to the history of wind theory and limpid explanations of such phenomena as viscosity, before Roberts goes on to detail a number of Davenport’s more famous projects, such as the World Trade Center, the Sears Tower, Shanghai’s World Financial Center, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and Florida’s Sunshine Skyway. A final chapter testifies to Davenport’s forward thinking as he tackled disaster mitigation, again with his wind tunnel, using models of local topography to avoid obvious landscape traps in the event of natural disasters.
A winning, enlightening investigation into wind engineering and the man who made the airwaves speak.