What do you like so much about the program?
It's absolutely satisfying to change a life. I've worked with kids who had no direction for their future, and then lightbulbs pop on and they realize the possibilities out there for them. It's great.
Let's talk about your early years. How did you get into the field?
My family have been brick masons since the 1800s. My father was always building something. I worked with him. We built a brick two-car garage on the lot next to us in the Bronx. In my teenage years I completely renovated an abandoned house in the Catskills, building the chimneys and fireplaces. I took a house that had been unoccupied for 40 years — it had no windows, no heat, no water and no sewer. I basically rebuilt it and made it habitable. That's how my interest in structural engineering started, and it just grew from there.
What are some of the structures you worked on that make you proudest?
I would say the American Airlines hangars in Los Angeles and San Francisco international airports. Each building holds four Boeing 747s. I was 28 years old when I started those, and they were state of the art. To this day, they are miraculous structures; the one in Los Angeles went through the Northridge Earthquake, and the hangar in San Francisco survived the Loma Prieta Earthquake.
What else have you got in the works?
The Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is in design right now. It is 3,300 feet, about a kilometer tall. In 2015, when it's topped out, it will eclipse the Burj Dubai project in the United Arab Emirates, which is about 2,800 ft. tall.
You were very close to your father, what would he say about your accomplishments today?
Wow. Don't let it get to your head.