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Obituary for Prof. Wolfgang Oberndorfer

Honoring the life and work of o.Univ.-Prof. i.R. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Wolfgang Oberndorfer, MS

Portrait of Wolfgang Oberndorfer with a mourning border

The death of Wolfgang Oberndorfer on May 1st, 2023 hit all employees of the Institute for Construction Management and Construction Economics hard, he was a permanent and mainstay of research and teaching in today's research area "Construction Economics and Construction Management" - with him the doyen of the Austrian construction industry has gone from us forever.

He never wanted to be the center of attention; down-to-earth modesty and scientific honesty were his trademarks. An appreciation of his life and work would have been extremely unpleasant for him throughout his life - in memory of his extraordinary personality and his constant creative power, the essential stages of his professional and private life should be remembered at this point.

On February 28, 1941, Wolfgang Oberndorfer was born in Steyr/Upper Austria as the eldest son of the civil engineer Dipl.-Ing. Karl Oberndorfer and his wife Anneliese. In 1959 he enrolled to study civil engineering at the Vienna University of Technology, majoring in structural engineering. In 1964, Wolfgang Oberndorfer completed his civil engineering studies in record time after less than 10 semesters.

In the same year he enrolled for postgraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, Division of Structural Engineering and Structural Mechanics and also began working as a teaching and research assistant. In June 1965 he completed his Californian academic detour with a Master of Science degree with a master's thesis on "The time-dependent variability of the contributing plate width of composite beams".

His actual professional life began in October 1965 when he joined VOEST/Stahlbau in Linz as a structural engineer. In March 1966 he moved to the company Mayreder, Kraus & Co, where he became the site manager for the prestressed concrete work on the Grein bridge over the Danube. Through his work on the construction site, he was able to gain a lasting understanding of the concerns and problems of the construction sites on site.

However, Wolfgang Oberndorfer did not feel a vocation as site manager, as early as December 1966 he received his doctorate in technical sciences from the Technical University of Vienna with a dissertation on "Cylindrical sandwich shells with viscoelastic filling material with the participation of temperature gradients". For the next 3 years, Wolfgang Oberndorfer worked as a structural engineer at Mayreder until the beginning of 1970, through close cooperation with Dipl.-Ing. Metz developed a lasting friendship.

This first phase as a structural engineer gradually changed over the next few years into the second phase of the construction-oriented IT specialist. In 1968 he started to set up a computer center at Mayreder and developed a fully integrated program for the dimensioning of prestressed concrete bridges using punch cards. The first practical use took place between 1970 and 1972 with the construction of the Danube bridge in Melk. In 1970 he also acquired the license of a civil engineer and in 1971 he was appointed court-certified and sworn expert for the construction industry.

In 1969 Wolfgang Oberndorfer married his partner Christine Mittendorfer. From this marriage came three children, Birgit, Christian and Georg. He valued his family above all else. In later years, he repeatedly took his children on hikes to teach them about the beauty of the mountains and to let them feel the breath of nature.

The mountain solitude, the self-conquest as well as the beauty of the almost untouched mountains were challenges and satisfaction at the same time. He conquered the famous and strenuous "Haute Route" high-altitude ski tour in the Mont Blanc region several times, he was a passionate cyclist and participant in mountain runs - a "tough endurance athlete" through and through.

Wolfgang Oberndorfer continuously fine-tuned his scientific career - parallel to his efforts to achieve a fulfilling family life and his sporting activities - and qualified as a lecturer with the venia legendi for "Information systems in the Construction Industry" at the Technical University of Vienna. This marked the start of Wolfgang Oberndorfer's third career phase - the adaptable academic became head of the operational organization department at the construction company STUAG, thereby laying the foundation for his academic career as a construction economist.

Due to his experience in the planning of engineering structures and in IT organization, he was finally appointed on March 1, 1981 as a full university professor for construction economics and planning technology to succeed Prof. Walter Jurecka at the Institute for Construction Management and Construction Economics at the Technical University of Vienna. Wolfgang Oberndorfer distinguished himself at the institute through scientific meticulousness, irrepressible curiosity and exemplary self-discipline, thus establishing an impressive era in research and teaching.

More than 165 scientific publications of books and specialist articles in German and English provide eloquent testimony to his work at the Institute for Construction Management and Construction. In addition, Wolfgang Oberndorfer held around 50 national and international top-class lectures during his professorship, campaigned in selected seminars for his specialist area of construction and planning technology and initiated numerous construction research projects. His scientific work was rounded off by his participation in numerous committees, professional associations and committees.

As a professor, Wolfgang Oberndorfer was a vehement advocate of the fact that the young assistants, after successfully completing their research in his field, have to go into the reality of the practical implementation of knowledge. He strictly rejected academic careers at the institute because he was an ardent representative of the connection between science and practice.

His scientific work was characterized by great objectivity. His considerations were never one-sided and always practice-oriented - a balanced processing of facts and an expert opinion meticulously derived from them were a permanent concern of his. Throughout his life, Wolfgang Oberndorfer was a highly respected construction industry expert from all sides, and his expert opinions were largely unassailable in the industry.

When Wolfgang Oberndorfer contributed his expertise on a case-by-case basis, a high quality assessment of the facts was ensured - regardless of the intentions of his client. He was a tough, objective and unwavering construction economist in the truest sense of the word. The construction industry scene was and is significantly influenced and shaped by his creativity.

He shaped his students, his assistants and his colleagues significantly through his exemplary commitment to the construction industry and thus laid the foundation for numerous successful professional careers. Wolfgang Oberndorfer was always open to questions and was always available to help and advise his employees.

He was a teacher of a special class with a very fine feeling for different people - his efforts were always aimed at the development of individuals. He was not animated by the professorial passing on of dogmatic principles, he was never tempted to assert his opinions and his convictions solely on the basis of his function. Rather, he was always concerned with critical discourse and dealing with contradictory arguments. Despite his brilliant intellect, he never took off and stayed down to earth.

In addition to his specialist work, his social commitment was remarkable. He felt devoted to the needy and weak and dedicated himself to caring for homeless people in the so-called "crypt" under the Mariahilfer Church in Vienna. There he distributed gifts, organized theatrical performances with prominent artists and went on extensive mountain hikes with his "crypts". In addition, he was involved in a development aid project for a preschool in faraway India in the town of Puvi and dedicated himself to a street kindergarten in South America near Rio de Janeiro.

After his voluntary and premature departure from the institute on February 29, 2004, Wolfgang Oberndorfer remained connected to the institute during his "retirement" and devoted himself primarily to his work as an expert in the construction industry. He always remained true to his scientific principles, objectivity was his personal claim and his constant drive and guiding light. At the same time, after leaving the institute, Wolfgang Oberndorfer worked as an author on religious topics. Here, too, he was concerned with reconciling Catholic doctrine and the actual reality of life - the combination of his technical training and his religious convictions gave him a solid foundation for his arguments.

The combination of science and practice was a constant life and teaching goal for Wolfgang Oberndorfer. The economic execution of construction projects, accompanied by a great understanding of contract law, was his construction credo - in this way he shaped generations of civil engineers and so he will remain in grateful memory for many years to come.

"When you think of me, do not be sad. Tell about me and think about our time together. Leave me a place between you as I had in life.”

Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Gerald Goger
Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Andreas Kropik