Yin Yu Tang means
"the desire to shelter many future generations."
But for Natalia Cardelino, chief structural engineer and project
manager for the Peabody-Essex Museum, Yin Yu Tang means "fabulous
Cardelino, a 30-year-old
senior structural engineer for Richmond So Engineering , New
York City, worked with Ove Arup & Partners in Boston on
the Peabody Essex-Museum renovation project. Over the past
six years, Cardelino has worked on transporting the two-story
Chinese home called Yin Yu Tang, built 200 years ago, from
China to Salem, Mass. The house was once located in the rural
village of Huang Cun, approximately 250 miles southwest of
Shanghai, and is now being reconstructed as an adjunct to
the Peabody-Essex Museum, where it will be put on display
after construction of the museum has finished. Following its
$125 million renovation, the museum is slated to open in May
and will exhibit centuries-old houses from around the world.
Nancy Berliner, the museum's curator
of Chinese Art and Culture, in 1996 found the house up for
sale. Berliner made connections with the regional administration
in China and the Peabody-Essex Museum, and in May 1997 she
was able to transfer the house to Salemwith a few challenges.
The building had to be taken
apart and then reconstructed on the museum site. But under
Massachusetts law, the building was considered new construction
and had to meet current building codes. Besides being rebuilt
in the traditional manner of houses from the Huizhou region,
builders also worked to Chinese feng shui principles, to bring
the structure into harmony with natural forces.
This required not only the
usual group of engineers, architects, construction workers,
museum reps, carpenters, and masons on the project, but also
their Chinese equivalents; two to three carpenters and masons
as well as their translators were invited from China to work
on the house. Filling out the project's staff were a fire
protection engineer, an electrical engineer and a plumbing
Cardelino joined the project in
1999, about four years after graduating from Cornell University
with a masters' degree in civil engineering, and after having
worked three and a half years for Arup in London and New York.
Before Yin Yu Tang she had mainly done design work, but by
this past September she was chief structural engineer and
coordinator of the design team.
Cardelino says she was in the "right
place at the right time." She says, "I was relocating
up to Boston, so I was the convenient person," she says.
Cardelino credits her success to
mentoring. Richman So, the Yin Yu Tang construction manager
with whom she is now employed, "showed me how [to work]
so that I was able to take over as project manager and structural
engineer" once he left.
What was fascinating about
the buildings for Cardelino was her involvement in meeting
snow, wind and earthquake codes of Massachusetts. She also
was able to do something relatively few structural engineers
do: she not only got to work with wood and masonry, but actually
got to recreate the tables used for measurements of these
Although Cardelino left the project
recently to relocate to New York, Yin Yu Tang holds a special
place in her heart. She still has a hand in its progress,
as she continues to work on the house, albeit as a consultant
based in New York.
As a former professor in the building
technology masters program at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, Cardelino also has some words of advice for
emerging engineers and contractors. "Once you have experience,
you're not intimidated," she says. "Suffer through
because they'll respect you."
She says a common feeling as a
young engineer is having to prove yourself. "I was incredibly
lucky that for the first two years [working for Ove Arup]
I got to do mostly design work." Once you begin working
in the field, according to Cardelino, there is a subtle difference:
"You notice that they're not treating you like they treat