Mario Salvadori successfully combined two aspects of an extremely diverse career: First, as an authority on the analysis and design of shell structure and on the application of numerical analysis in the solution of engineering problems; Secondly, as a highly regarded teacher and mentor to several generations of young people.
Salvadori was born in Rome, Italy, on March 19, 1907. He had an early interest in architecture and math, however his first desire was to become a concert conductor. Though this desire never materialized as a career, he continued to have a strong interest in music. Another of his early interests was mountaineering, and he was credited with opening 27 new trails through the Alps.
Salvadori’s technical skills led him to earn a doctorate in civil engineering in 1930 and a doctorate in mathematics in 1933, both from the University of Rome. Throughout his college career and until 1938, Salvadori held teaching positions in the School of Engineering and the School of Architecture of the University of Rome. During this time, he also conducted post-graduate work on photo-elasticity at the University College in London.
In 1939, Salvadori moved to the United States and accepted a temporary teaching position at Columbia University. This eventually led to a 50-year career at the university. Throughout his tenure, Salvadori served as a professor of civil engineering and in 1972 became the James Renwick Professor of Civil Engineering. He also taught courses in architecture, and held a professorship in that department from 1959 until 1990. While at Columbia, he instituted a new method of teaching structural engineering and was credited with being able to communicate complex theories to a wide audience.
Salvadori’s career in industry began in 1961 when he became a partner of Weidlinger Associates, Consulting Engineers. In 1984, he was elected Chairman of the Board, a position he held until 1992 when he was made Honorary Chairman.
Among Salvadori’s most significant achievements, was his work with young inner-city students. In 1975, responding to a request from the New York Academy of Sciences for volunteers to help improve the quality of math and science education in the city’s public schools, Salvadori began teaching junior high school students in East Harlem. As a volunteer, he taught abstract concepts through real-life examples. Using model bridges and buildings, Salvadori encouraged students to discover for themselves the laws that govern math and engineering.
Expanding on this civic service, he founded the "Salvadori Educational Center on the Built Environment," a non-profit educational center dedicated to helping inner city youth understand math and engineering through hands-on study. The center now provides staff development curriculum materials and on-site assistance and has trained more than 300 educators in the "Salvadori Method." It is estimated that more than 100,000 minority students in New York City have been exposed to his method, which has been carried to schools throughout the United States and in eight foreign countries.
Salvadori has earned numerous awards and honors. He also published several books, including the well-known Why Buildings Fall Down.
Salvadori died on June 25, 1997. His wife Carol lives in New York. His son Vieri, lives in Italy and his step-son Michael Kazin lives in Washington, D.C.