Charles H. Thornton, who lived what he described as “a life of elegant solutions” as a co-founder of the global engineering powerhouse Thornton Tomasetti, has died. An ASCE Distinguished Member and recipient of the 2013 Outstanding Projects and Leaders award for design, he was 83.

The renowned structural engineer, educator, and mentor was immensely proud of his firm and its achievements, often sharing the backstories behind the firm’s successes, including in his 2013 memoir A Life of Elegant Solutions. Even his sailboat was named Elegant Solution.

“Engineering, at its core, is about shaping the future,” he wrote. “It is through our collective efforts that we have the power to create structures that not only stand tall but also stand as reminders of human ingenuity."

Thornton, P.E., Dist.M.ASCE, served as Thornton Tomasetti’s chairman and CEO until retiring in 2004. Across a six-decade career, he played a leading role in designing and building some of the world’s most famous buildings while working with fellow founding principal Richard Tomasetti to transform a modest New York firm into an international multidisciplinary concern.

Born in the Bronx in 1940, Thornton found inspiration in his father, an electrician and bricklayer who became Bronx chief building inspector. Thornton earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Manhattan College and master’s and doctoral degrees from New York University. He joined ASCE early and became a life member.

His career began in earnest with a doctoral thesis that impressed New York structural engineer Lev Zetlin. After joining Lev Zetlin Associates in 1960, Thornton worked on the designs of several pavilions at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

In 1983, Thornton and Tomasetti bought Zetlin’s firm in the middle of a recession and took it private. “He was equally dedicated to mentoring everyone in our firm, our partners, and future generations,” Tomasetti said in the company’s tribute to Thornton.

Before long, the firm had a reputation for innovation and excellence, often taking on technically challenging projects that others said couldn’t be done. Many of Thornton Tomasetti’s high-rise buildings, airports, sports and entertainment venues, transportation hubs, and special and long-span structures featured innovations that would become standards. These include some of the first supertall towers – Petronas Towers in Malaysia and Taipei 101 in Taiwan among them – and many other iconic structures worldwide such as the new Yankee Stadium. Its engineers were first at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001, to examine the aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Center. The firm has rehabilitated icons including the U.S. Capitol Dome, the Chrysler Building, and Wrigley Field.

After retiring, Thornton served as the firm’s advisor for several years. He also chaired Charles H. Thornton & Company LLC, Straam Inc., and AECOS Ltd., and taught structural engineering for many years as a visiting and adjunct professor.

In addition to ASCE’s OPAL award, his many other accolades include induction in the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Construction, honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Civil Engineering from The Franklin Institute, and Engineering News-Record’s Award of Excellence.

Since his early days, a passion project was the ACE Mentor Program, a nonprofit that continues to provide guidance and scholarships to inner-city high school students in more than 107 cities who are pursuing careers in architecture, engineering, and construction.

Thornton’s personal passions included sailing, painting, and quality time with family.