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Polish-born engineer who practiced in Poland, Venezuela, and the United States; Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Biographical Information

Name: Waclaw Zalewski
Born on 25 August 1917 in , Zhytomyr Oblast, Ukraine, Europe
Deceased on 29 December 2016 in , Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA, North America
25 August 1917

Birth in Warsaw, Poland.


Participation in Warsaw Uprising.


Master's degree, Civil Engineering, Gdansk Polytechnic Institute; Begins work in structural design in Poland.


Doctorate, civil engineering, Warsaw Polytechnic.


Moves to Venezuela to teach and practice.

Since 1966

Professor, Department of Architecture, MIT.


Honorary doctorate, Departments of Architecture and Civil Engineering, Warsaw Polytechnic.


Exhibit of his works at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Notes & Comments

Waclaw Zalewski (VAHTS-wahff zah-LEFF-skee) was born in 1917. In 1935 he began his studies of structural engineering in Warsaw. Just before he was to receive his degree in 1939, German armies invaded and occupied Poland, making further academic work impossible. He joined the Polish underground army, as a result of which he was frequently forced into hiding for extended periods. These interludes provided ample time for him to reflect on his studies and read extensively about structural behavior. He soon looked beyond the narrowly mathematical curriculum he had been provided in engineering school to develop a strong interest in how the flow patterns of forces through structures might suggest more efficient structural forms.

In 1944, he took part in the ill-fated Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis. He was able to escape capture when this effort collapsed, but two members of his immediate family were killed in the punitive German bombing of Warsaw that followed. In 1947, he was able at last to take up work as a designer of structures. As his first projects were built, he developed another aspect of his philosophy of engineering: a strong concern for minimizing the difficulty and cost of construction. The dual goals of shaping structures according to their internal forces and designing efficient processes for their construction have been primary themes in Prof. Zalewski's work throughout his academic and professional careers.

In 1947, when academic records had been retrieved and reconstructed from the wreckage of the war, he received a master's degree in civil engineering from Gdansk Polytechnic Institute. After earning a doctorate in 1962 from the Warsaw Polytechnic, he accepted an invitation from the Universidad de los Andes in Merida, Venezuela, where he taught and worked as a structural designer for a period of three years. In 1966, he was invited to join the faculty of the MIT Department of Architecture, where he taught as a tenured professor until his retirement in 1988. He retained his connections in Venezuela for many years, however, and continued to design structures there during academic holidays and sabbaticals. He was awarded an honorary doctorate for his professional achievements by the Departments of Architecture and Civil Engineering of the Warsaw Polytechnic in 1998.

Prof. Zalewski's ongoing career as a designer of innovative structures is documented in this exhibition. He has been equally innovative in the classroom, where his teaching is characterized by its nurturing of imagination and creativity and its orientation toward finding good form for structures based on funicular forms and flow patterns of internal forces. He is coauthor with Edward Allen of an introductory textbook, Shaping Structures (Wiley, 1998), that is based on this approach.

In describing his design methods, he has stated that "The intellectual delights of...analytical procedures are very different from the sensuous pleasures of giving a structure its shape...Geometry is the mathematics of structural imagination."

[Excerpted from the exhibit "Waclaw Zalewski: Shaping Structures" which opens at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in April 2006. The entire exhibit, reviewed by Prof. Zalewski, has been created by: Edward Allen, Visiting Professor of Architecture, David M. Foxe and Jeff Anderson. ]

Structures and Projects

Participation in the following structures & large-scale projects:

structural engineer


  1. Zalewski, Waclaw (1961): Palacio de los deportes, Katowice (Polonia). In: Informes de la Construcción, v. 14, n. 134 (October 1961), pp. 85-89.


  2. Zalewski, Waclaw (1963): Formas estructurales de fuerza constante. In: Informes de la Construcción, v. 16, n. 150 (May 1963), pp. 69-76.


  3. Traum, Eliahu / Zalewski, Waclav (1971): A simplified procedure for torsional analysis of prismatic members with open section. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (USA).
  4. Zalewski, Waclav (1970): Buildings on Slopes. An Approach. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (USA).
  5. Allen, Edward / Zalewski, Waclav (1998): Shaping Structures. Statics. John Wiley & Sons, New York (USA), pp. 416.
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