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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Thornton Tomasetti Principal William Bast


This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.

Structural engineer William Bast has spent 30 years perfecting his craft in building design and forensic engineering, having worked on some of the nation's tallest towers.

A principal at New York-based national structural engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, founded in 1949, Bast serves as the head of Thornton Tomasetti's Forensics and Renewal practices in Chicago. He has participated in a number of building restorations and renovations for nationally renowned projects in the Chicago area, including the retail additions at Willis Tower (Sears Tower) — the second-tallest tower in the country behind One World Trade Center, The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and the Wrigley Building. The company has had a hand in a number of major projects worldwide, including the World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York and the Jeddah Tower in Dubai. Jeddah Tower will be the tallest building in the world when completed in 2020.

Bast has served as president of a number of national associations and professional organizations during his career, including the National Council of Structural Engineers Association and The Structural Engineers Foundation.

Thornton Tomasetti Principal William Bast jamming on the drums.

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Bast: I work on the design and forensic structural engineering of buildings. The architect designs the form, function and aesthetic; we design the foundations and structure to keep the building standing. Forensic engineering usually involves an assessment of the cause and origin of a building problem. We assist clients by developing a system of repairs, or with assisting them with dispute resolution or litigation related to building failures.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?

Bast: Medical doctor/surgeon. 

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had? 

Bast: Busboy and dishwasher at IHOP. 

Bisnow: What was your first big deal?

Bast: O’Hare Plaza II in Chicago, near the Cumberland El stop, in 1985. It’s still there! This was the first time that I dealt with not only technical matters, but also budget and schedule constraints.

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?

Bast: 600 West Chicago Ave. in Chicago ... It is a project from which I was fired, but later rehired. The developer client did not perform a structural due diligence on the property. We ran into issues with the city of Chicago regarding the existing wood pile condition and concrete slab strength. The developer became annoyed at the delay and hired another firm to replace us.  A few months later we were rehired to assist in completing the permit process, as our successor had been delayed as well.

Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be?

Bast: Many clients and architects don’t understand the value that engineers can bring to a project, nor do they understand the tremendous risk that they undertake when hiring the wrong engineer. If we as structural engineers perform our work with great skill, ingenuity and creativity, we can save the client millions of dollars.

Thornton Tomasetti principal William Bast (center) standing atop a rooftop with colleagues

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve? 

Bast: [That] the wrong engineer can cost the client millions of dollars in property damage, loss or delay claims.

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?

Bast: I’ve had many, but the greatest of them was my dad, who was also a civil engineer. 

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever received?

Bast: The best — Take a job that will interest and challenge you, not for the money or title. The worst — You should just quit and move on. 

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Bast: My midcentury modern house.

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world? 

Bast: It had been The Pump Room in Chicago, which closed last year. Now it’s probably McDonald’s. They’re all over the world and not too expensive. 

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say? 

Bast: I’m interested in hearing more about your plans to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, which could yield benefits for the economy, the job market and the AEC industry.

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Bast: The biggest risk that I’ve taken was quitting my job at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in Chicago, moving back to Pennsylvania, and starting my own structural engineering consulting business in 1987 at the age of 30. I grew the business from a one-man operation to six people, including my dad, who retired from his job of 40 years and started working part time for me. After three years of running my own business, I decided to return to Chicago, and eight years later joined Thornton Tomasetti’s relatively new Chicago office.

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown?

Bast: My health and tennis club. 

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Bast: Usually nothing, unless something comes up with one of my kids. 

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?

Bast: Becoming a better Christian, man, father, brother, mentor, friend, engineer, leader, tennis player and drummer.