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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Arnold Rosner: engineer, problem solver

Seattle Times staff reporter

Arnold Rosner didn't know a granny knot from a bowline when he joined the Navy during World War II, but he was a quick study.

So when his boot-camp instructor asked if anyone could tie maritime knots, Mr. Rosner contemplated the scorching day and drills ahead and quickly replied. "Yes sir, I can," figuring he would study knots over the weekend. He did and soon afterward was excused from drills to teach other recruits his newly acquired skills.

That "brilliant, inquisitive, creative, problem-solving mind" later served him well as a structural engineer and during a 28-year tenured career teaching architecture at the University of Washington, said his wife, Ruth Ballweg.

A memorial service will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the University of Washington Faculty Club to mark what would have been Mr. Rosner's 80th birthday. He died March 27 in an Edmonds nursing home.

Mr. Rosner grew up in Chicago. His father had emigrated from Romania and his mother from Russia. During his time in the Navy, Mr. Rosner specialized in the new fields of radar and electronics.

After the war, he earned an engineering degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a master's degree from the California Institute of Technology. As a structural engineer in Chicago and Ohio, he worked on large projects such as Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

He was an early innovator with prestressed concrete, convincing local authorities that the strong material would improve bridges, said Robertson Ward Jr., a Boston architect and former colleague. Mr. Rosner later became a strong advocate for prefabricated houses, arguing that they could lower the cost of new homes.

In 1962, he took an engineering job with Boeing and moved to Seattle, where he began working for the UW about a year later. Mr. Rosner met his second wife at the UW, where she is an associate professor in the School of Medicine. He'd had two children with his first wife.

Son Jeremy Rosner, a political consultant, said he remembers the fun his father would bring to his campus classes.

He would challenge his architecture students to build towers from simple materials such as the cardboard tubes found inside paper-towel rolls, his son said. Sometimes he would ask the students to build a structure that would support a 5-gallon jug of wine, and they would celebrate afterward with any wine that hadn't smashed to the ground.

Mr. Rosner loved to tinker with electronics and gadgets and was a proficient photographer with his own darkroom, his son said. He played in a marching band when he was younger and loved classical music, klezmer music and jazz.

"He was a total original," Jeremy Rosner said.

Former student Greg Bader was a lifelong friend, and in the 1990s, when Mr. Rosner had retired, they worked together on an unfinished — although somewhat prophetic — plan to solve Seattle's transportation woes.

The centerpiece of the plan involved using prefabricated concrete tubes to create a waterfront tunnel to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, Bader said.

"Arnold was so involved that he would get in his little Honda and drive possible routes and discuss them with state transportation people," Bader said. "He was a theorist of big ideas."

In addition to his son and his wife, Mr. Rosner is survived by his wife's two children, Dayan Ballweg of Los Angeles and Pirkko Terao of Kirkland; his former wife, Josephine Rosner of Mercer Island; daughter Jeanne Rosner of Kenmore; and six grandchildren.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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