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The Charles Pankow Foundation Collection on Charles Pankow

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 135

Scope and Contents

The Charles Pankow Foundation collection on Charles Pankow reflects the life of Charles J. Pankow and his contribution to the construction industry. It is a compilation of news articles on Pankow himself, the people associated with Pankow Companies and Pankow Foundation, papers, projects undertaken by Pankow Group of Companies. Information regarding the biography of Charles Pankow, A Better Way to Build, is also included.


  • 1950 - 2014
  • Majority of material found within 1975 - 2012


Language of Materials

Collection material is in English.

Access Information

Collection is open for research.

Copyright and Use Information

Collection materials copyrights held by Purdue University or original creator. Consult with Purdue University Archives and Special Collections prior to reproduction of materials.

Biographical Information

Born in South Bend, Indiana, Charles J. Pankow matriculated to Purdue University in the fall of 1941. World War II interrupted his studies. A childhood bout with scarlet fever prevented him from serving in the army, but he was able to join the navy near the end of the war. He was stationed in Japan until 1946. A year later, he graduated from Purdue with a degree in civil engineering.

Following graduattion Pankow relocated to Southern California with his wife, Doris, and took a job with S. B. Barnes Associates, a Los Angeles structural engineering firm that Purdue University graduates Stephenson B. Barnes and Mark Deering had founded in 1934. Charlie Pankow had met Barnes while on naval leave. He worked for Barnes a little more than two years. He then worked for The Austin Company, an early design-build pioneer, for about a year.

In 1951 Charlie Pankow joined Peter Kiewit Sons, one of the largest contractors in America. Notwithstanding the company's focus on the construction of dams, roads, and other large civil infrastructure projects, Pankow was able to carve out a niche in building concrete commercial structures. By 1957, he had convinced Peter Kiewit to establish a building division within the company's southwest district. For six years, he led a close-knit cadre of engineers and other field personnel, who together gained experience in slipforming and other concrete-forming technologies. They also developed their expertise in the practice of design-build, a project delivery approach wherein the design-builder, who is typically the general contractor, assumes responsibility for delivering a project at a price that is determined early in the process and accepts the financial risks associated with schedule and cost overruns. The design-builder works with the architect and structural engineer in planning and design to achieve "more economical and efficient construction," as Charlie Pankow explained.

The professional frustrations of working within a corporate culture that valued heavy construction work (dams, roads, and the like) prompted Pankow to form Charles Pankow, Inc. (CPI), with three of his Kiewit colleagues in 1963. Almost all of his employees within the Arcadia, California,based building division followed him out of the company. Since 1963, Charles Pankow Builders, Ltd. (CPBL), as the company is now known, has constructed upwards of 200 apartment buildings, condominiums, hotels and resorts, office towers, regional shopping centers, and other commercial structures. Pankow Special Projects, Ltd. (PSPL), a subsidiary business, engages in tenant improvements, health care facility upgrades, seismic renovations, adaptive reuse of historically and architecturally significant structures, and other specialized products. Since its establishment in 1995, PSPL has completed more than 800 projects.

Assembled within the new firm, Pankow and his colleagues innovated concrete forming technology and championed design-build. They strove to "automate" the job site through on-site precasting of structural and architectural concrete elements, slipforming or jumpforming of vertical building elements, and using fly forms to install horizontal building elements. Pankow's teams developed many innovations, often in collaboration with other members of the building team. They included: using the architectural "skin" of a structure to form exterior columns and beams; using superplasticisor admixtures in the casting of beams and girders; developing a portable casting beam bed; incorporating HVAC air shafts into the concrete core of the building; devising the means to construct a second story over an existing enclosed mall without requiring the shopping center to close for business; and, perhaps, most impressively, developing the precast hybrid moment resistant frame (PHMRF) that incorporates the advantages of precast concrete and provides a seismic framing system that outperforms structural steel.

The PHMRF resulted from the joint efforts of CPBL, the University of Washington, structural engineers John A. Martin & Associates, and the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute for Standards and Technology. It has been deployed most conspicuously in the construction of the Paramount in San Francisco, the tallest precast concrete building on the West Coast upon its completion in 2001.

Both CPI and CPBL distinguished themselves among contractors by self-performing concrete work to ensure high quality and timely construction. Doing so helped the Pankow companies to deliver projects on time and within the owner's budget almost without exception. Charlie Pankow was a leading member of many national associations and academies, and he received numerous awards and honors. In 1980 he served as president of the American Concrete Institute (ACI). Twenty-three years earlier, he had assisted in the formation of the Southern California Chapter-the first local ACI chapter in America. In 1970 he received a Distinguished Alumnus Award from his alma mater; in 1980, he received an honorary doctorate degree from the university. In 1990 the ACI awarded him its Henry C. Turner Award. In 1993 the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce conferred upon him its Industry Achievement Award. In 1997 he was elected into the National Academy of Engineering. In 2002 the American Society of Civil Engineer's gave him its OPAL (Outstanding Projects and Leaders) Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Construction. In 2003 the Design-Build Institute of America, which Charlie Pankow had helped to found a decade earlier, awarded him its Brunelleschi Medal for Lifetime Achievement. In 1999 the Engineering News-Record recognized him as one of the top six builders of the prior half-century as part of the publication's 125th anniversary.

Mr. Pankow was a noted speaker at state, regional, and national conventions and university conferences and symposia. He authored several articles in professional journals and, in his capacity as ACI president, the President's Memo in Concrete International, the journal of the ACI. Pankow also contributed chapters on tilt-up and precast construction in successive editions of Concrete Construction Handbook, edited by Joseph Waddell.

Pankow became well-known as a connoisseur of the arts through his acquisition of a considerable collection of ancient Chinese, Egyptian, and Russian artifacts. During his life Pankow amassed one of the largest private collections of Russian and Greek icons in America. Over the years, Pankow and his estate have contributed generously to several educational institutions, most notably Purdue University, where two concrete laboratories bear his name.

The Charles Pankow Foundation, which Mr. Pankow founded in 2002, funded a oral history collection to document the professional achievements of the man and his firm.


1.766 Cubic Feet (Three full-width letter-size manuscript boxes, one flat box, and one shoe box)

39.20 Gigabytes


The materials are organized into 18 series.
  1. Charles Pankow Newsletters
  2. Selected Projects
  3. Charles Pankow Lecture and Eulogies
  4. Oral History Interviews
  5. Charles J. Pankow
  6. Charles Pankow Group
  7. Architects/ Developers/ Estates
  8. Kiewitt, CPA, Early CPI Projects
  9. CPI / CPBL Projects Since 1975
  10. ENR Top 400/ BD & C 300
  11. ENR Construction Forecasts
  12. Construction Industry
  13. Urban Land
  14. Other Company Profiles
  15. Images
  16. Annual Meetings
  17. Awards, Memberships, and Ephemera
  18. Purdue University Press and A Better Way to Build

Physical Access Information

Collection material on audio cassettes, discs, and removable drives have been migrated to a digital storage for access. Use digital copy.

Acquisition Information

Collection materials donated by Michael R. Adamson on February 28, 2012 and August 15, 2012. Materials donated by Richard Pankow on September 19, 2012. Additional materials donated by Rik Kunnath on September 28, 2012 and December 10, 2012.

Processing Information

All materials have been housed in polyester sleeves, acid-free folders, and acid-free boxes. All newsprint has been photocopied and in most cases original newspaper clippings have been discarded. Photographs; and artifacts have been separated and grouped into individual series for preservation purposes. Files on digital mediums have been copied to for preservation purposes.



The Charles Pankow Foundation Collection on Charles Pankow
Vaishnavi Chandrasekaran, Abby Zindren, and Neal Harmeyer
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
Third edition. Collection description was first completed 2013-03-01.

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 Mitch Daniels Boulevard
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States