Alumni Spotlight: Andy Ciancia and Chris Christoforou

Hudson Yards construction project, above. Pictured below: Chris Christoforou (top) and Andy Ciancia (bottom).
Hudson Yards construction project, above. Pictured below: Chris Christoforou (top) and Andy Ciancia (bottom).
Hudson Yards construction project, above. Pictured below: Chris Christoforou (top) and Andy Ciancia (bottom).

Andy Ciancia ENG’68, GSNB’70 and Chris Christoforou ENG’83, GSNB’85 

For the past 13 years, School of Engineering alumni Andy Ciancia and Chris Christoforou have been involved in developing Manhattan’s west side, including the Hudson Yards, the country’s largest private real estate project ever. When completed, the $20 billion “city within a city,” will feature 17.4 million square feet of new office, residential, retail, and other space, including a public school, as well as 14 acres of open spaces. Ciancia, a geotechnical engineer and managing principal/chairman of the board of Langan, and the Langan team of engineers has tackled daunting below grade challenges. Thornton Tomasetti principal and office manager Chris Christoforou and his colleagues are designing many of the project’s buildings.

How closely do you work together on Hudson Yards?

Chris: We work and collaborate with Langan on many, many projects in New York City, New Jersey, around the country and around the world. Once in a while, we’re both on the same project, as in the Hudson Yards.

Andy:  Langan has worked with Thornton Tomasetti on the Hudson Yards site since a stadium for the NY Jets was proposed nearly 15 years ago. For more than a decade our firms have had weekly and sometimes even daily meetings.

What were your roles in the project?

Chris: I was the project manager for the first of the four towers on the Eastern Block of the Yards, known as Tower C, or 10 Hudson Yards. It’s a 55-story tower standing 970 feet tall at the top of its crown.

We’re also designing Tower A and the large retail structure between these two towers; the entire plaza platform covering the train yards between 10th and 11th Avenues, from 30th to 33rd Street; and a structure for performances and exhibits west of Tower C.

Andy: Langan was involved in geotechnical or foundational engineering, as well as environmental engineering – basically everything below ground on the East Yards.  We are also on various design teams for several towers on the blocks surrounding the rail yards themselves.   We’re just starting work on the West Yards, between 11th and 12th Avenues.

What were your biggest challenges?

Andy: What makes this project so uniquely challenging is that it’s all being built on top of an active, 21-track rail yard. Three tracks would be shut down at a time, for the contractors to work around.  This meant we literally had to work 24/7 for over 18 months. We also had the environmental challenge of managing the proper disposal of the excavated soil.

The site is partially fill material – 11th and 12th Avenues were once part of the Hudson River.  So, for the caissons supporting the platforms the buildings sit on, we had to drill down 40 to 60 feet below grade to reach bedrock for the East Yards.

Soil conditions for the West Yards are even worse. We’ll have to drill down 120 to 140 feet to reach bedrock there.

Chris: Building tall buildings above train tracks, railway and utility tunnels is as big a challenge as they come.

What are you most proud of??

Andy: Just the sheer size of this project and staggering number of people involved.

Chris: I’m especially proud of the skill, dedication, enthusiasm, and hard, high quality work of my own staff that I’ve had the pleasure and honor to lead. 

Are any other School of Engineering alumni involved in this project?

Chris: My wife – if you count her for putting up with my long hours and stress. Honestly, it’s impossible to tell who else from the many other engineers, architects, and workers involved with the project.

Why did you choose Rutgers School of Engineering?

Chris: As a foreign student, I’d applied to several state universities, but Rutgers’ good name, great program, and its proximity to New York – the mecca of building engineering – were deciding factors for me.

Andy: I’m from New Jersey and Rutgers was one of several local schools I looked into. The wonderful campus setting and school reputation sold me.

What do you most value about your Rutgers education?

Andy: I could engage with my professors and other men in my class of just 22 civil engineers. At that time, Rutgers College was all male. It was an interesting time and environment. I got a great education and made lasting, lifelong friends.

Chris: Rutgers gave me all the necessary tools a young graduate would need to enter and succeed in the industry. And it’s where I met my wife, who was also an engineering student.

What did you do for fun as students?

Chris: Lots of different things from sports to trips to the local pubs and hanging out at my favorite club – the Hellenic Club.

Andy: I was in a fraternity and was also involved in ROTC and the colonial color guard, which marched before football games. Between school, the fraternity, and ROTC, I kept very busy.

What did you do after graduation?

Andy: I started with Woodward Clyde Consultants, which no longer exists, and was there for 23 years. I joined Langan in 1996.

Chris: I joined Thornton Tomasetti right after graduation. It’s my first and only job.

Have either of you recruited Rutgers students?

Andy: We recruit heavily at Rutgers, which is a good source of employees for us. In fact, almost 70 alumni work in our New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania offices.

We also hire Rutgers students who work as summer interns.

Chris: We have in the past, but not recently. I’m hoping this will change.  

Do you think of yourselves as mentors?

Chris: One of the roles that I cherish is that of mentoring, training, and passing knowledge on to the younger staff. It’s as gratifying as watching one of your projects decorate the New York skyline.

Andy: I’m on the Civil Engineering Alumni Advisory Committee, and work with civil and environmental engineering chair Nenad Gucunski and the department to give individual help to students and faculty. Students have visited our offices and toured the High Line, including Hudson Yards, with us. In fact, Chris and I recently gave a Hudson Yards presentation at Rutgers.

What do you do for fun these days?

Andy: Lots of interesting work! My wife, Mala, an engineering geologist, is very busy with a major transit project that runs from NJ to Manhattan. We have five children and six grandchildren that we would like to see more.

Chris: Since we are empty nesters – our two beautiful daughters are both in college – we like to travel.

So if you could take a vacation tomorrow, where would you go?

Chris:  Cyprus – my birthplace -- which is where my parents and siblings still live.

Andy: I haven’t seen Italy yet and I’d also like to see more of the national parks out west.