He really loved the University

Peter BalintOur dear Peter Balint, one of the founding brotherhood of the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering has passed away.

Peter, a structural engineer from Hungary, joined the School in 1952. The university had been established only three years previously to teach and conduct research in scientific and technological disciplines - the only Australian university founded with this unique focus. It began with three Faculties: architecture, engineering (civil, electrical, mechanical and mining) and science.

The School of Civil Engineering was at that time housed in a tiny terrace in Ultimo. Although their surroundings were humble, morale and excitement were high. For Peter Balint, a post war immigrant, Australia was ‘the land of opportunity’ and he recalled the enthusiasm, hard work and ambitions of the early school and its founding staff.

By 1955 the School, now more comfortably housed within Sydney Technical College grounds at Ultimo, had the largest number of full-time student enrolments of the then twelve schools in the new University.

Peter Balint was studying, teaching and researching in structural design and stress analysis. His work at the School structural testing labs – where each research project brought in a little more money for further equipment and further research – was underpinned by a good working relationship with the Civil Engineering leadership, in particular Prof Stan Hall. ‘I trusted him, and Stan trusted me, and he gave me the freedom you need if you want to progress. “

In 1959 Peter, despite being busy teaching and rearing a young family, completed his own Masters of Engineering thesis on the topic of the elastic behaviour of prestressed concrete slabs on an elastic foundation. In the early 1960’s Peter was involved in one of the most prestigious projects awarded to the emerging school, the model testing of the Sydney’s Australia Square Tower. Designed by the famous Modernist architect Harry Seidler and completed in 1967, its daring roundness and 50 floors impressed many at the time. Architectural critic Elizabeth Farrelly believes that the sleek, shiny modern tower ‘gave Sydney a sense of growing up, a sense of confidence.’ It would become a symbol of an emerging modern Australia.

The moving model Peter was commissioned to build a model of the tower, to assess its response to a variety of loads. Deep in the school’s Ultimo laboratories, Peter led a team conducting model studies to determine the lateral stiffness characteristics of the great tower for wind load stress conditions. The stiffness parameters from the model tests were fed into a computer model that was set up to predict the response of the structure to wind and involved solving about 11,000 simultaneous equations. The three biggest computers in Australia at CSIRO in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra were interconnected to solve the equations.

Peter was also involved in the assessment of another iconic Sydney structure, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, when there was a proposal to increase the number of rail lines crossing the Bridge. Peter valued these opportunities to research and utilise the techniques that he was teaching his students.

Peter continued to teach and research at the School till the 1980s. He is remembered as a knowledgeable, kindly and hardworking colleague. He was an enthusiastic teacher and mentor and

his open-door approach is remembered by many previous students. He was always recalled with respect and affection by alumni contacted during the School history project, for which he provided many precious photos and memories.

Although retired, Peter was always interested in the life and work of the School and kept in touch with many of his colleagues and ex-students. He was proud of the School’s twenty first century rise to number one civil engineering school in Australia and into the top global rankings. Like many of the founding staff, his connections were both deeply intellectual and emotional, as his beloved wife Margaret said, “He really loved the University”.

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