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Sears Tower Builder Dies at 78

July 22, 2011

By Laura Mirviss
This article originally appeared on Engineering News-Record

Richard C. Halpern, a Chicago-based construction manager who oversaw numerous high-profile domestic and international building projects during a 50-year career, died July 3 of complications from cancer treatment in Houston. He was 78.

Richard C. Halpern
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Halpern
Richard Halpern
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As an executive at former building firm Morse Diesel, Halpern managed the construction of the Sears Tower, the world’s tallest building when it opened in 1974. He was among three executives cited by ENR in 1974 for their roles in the landmark project, which included the industry’s first major effort to recruit minorities into its workforce.

In 1976, Halpern co-founded CM firm Schal Associates, which oversaw major Chicago building projects, including the Museum of Contemporary Art; the One Magnificent Mile building; and McCormick Place, the largest convention center in the U.S. In 1988, Schal was the first U.S. design firm to land a construction contract in Japan, which was long closed to foreign bidders. Halpern and co-founder Harold Schiff sold Schal to U.K.-based construction giant Bovis Inc. in 1994.

Halpern continued to work on international and domestic projects at Bovis, and he came out of semi-retirement in 1995 to intervene in managing the construction of a $130-million arts center at Chicago’s Navy Pier, which was delayed due to roofing problems and cost overruns.

In 1997, Halpern co-founded the Rise Group with a former Bovis colleague, Leif Selkregg. For 14 years, Rise oversaw projects for public and private clients, including the University of Chicago, the Public Building Commission of Chicago, Crate & Barrel and the Alaska SeaLife Center.

The Rise Group was acquired last year by Dutch construction giant Arcadis. “We built Rise to a size and a level of stature that got us established, and we are excited about the next level of growth and building a global platform with Arcadis,” Selkregg says, “This was something that Richard and I did together.”

Halpern was an adjunct professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management and a longtime board member of the Evanston, Ill.-based school’s  department of civil and environmental engineering. In 2008, he established the Halpern/Rise International Distinguished Architect-in-Residence program at Northwestern’s Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. The donation funded a new program in architectural engineering and design. Halpern was also a board member and supporter of the Chicago Urban League.

“Richard was maybe the last or certainly one of the last few master builders,” Selkregg says. “His management skills allowed him to collaborate to the highest level with the client, the architect, the engineers, and the builder.”

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