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Last Pillar of Earthquake Engineering from New Zealand

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Dr. N. Subramanian
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 09, 2015 4:30 pm    Post subject: Last Pillar of Earthquake Engineering from New Zealand Reply with quote

Prof. M.J.N. Priestley-A legend in Earthquake engineering

Those working in the area of earthquake engineering definitely would have referred the excellent papers of the three Legends from New Zealand whose contributions are fundamental to our understanding:  Prof. Robert Park , Prof. Thomas Paulay, and Prof. M.J. Nigel Priestley. The earlier two professors passed away a few years ago. Prof. Nigel Priestley passed away recently on Tuesday 23 December 2014, in Christchurch at the age of 71. According to Quincy Ma, president of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, Prof. Priestley “revolutionised the design of structures to resist earthquakes” over the course of his career.

Engineering Career in New Zealand:
Priestley’s career started in New Zealand. At the age of 20, he obtained a bachelor’s in Civil Engineering from the University of Canterbury(UC) and completed his Ph.D. when he was only 23 years old, in 1967, at the same institution.  Until 1976 he was head of the Structures Laboratory of the Ministry of Works Central Laboratories, where he carried pioneering research in structural concrete involving complex laboratory and field full-scale testing.   From 1976 till 1986, Prof. Priestley taught at the University of Canterbury where he performed acclaimed research work on pre-stressed concrete focusing on thermal and seismic design of pre​-​stressed concrete tanks, ductility based design of masonry structures (in collaboration with Prof. Tom Paulay), thermal and seismic design of bridges and seismic design methods incorporating rocking foundations (in collaboration with Prof. Bob Park).

During 1985 and 1986, Prof. Priestley was president of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering(NZSEE).

Work in America:

In 1986,Prof. Priestley joined the Department of Applied Mechanics and Engineering Sciences at UC San Diego, USA and was a founding faculty of the Department of Structural Engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

With damaging earthquakes in Whittier in 1987, Loma Prieta in 1989 and Northridge in 1994, Prof. riestley conducted extensive research into the seismic design, assessment and retrofit of bridges. From1991-1999, Prof. Priestley was also US coordinator of the joint US/Japan research program on seismic design of precast structures (the PRESSS program).

Work in Italy:
Prof. Priestley retired from UC San Diego in 2002 and went on to co-found the Post-graduate European ROSE School, based at the University of Pavia, Italy, to train of students worldwide on ways to reduce seismic vulnerability.

Master Consultant:
In addition to his research, Prof. Priestley was active with consulting on projects in NZ, USA, Guam, Turkey, and Greece. A number of the design projects with which he was involved received awards for excellence. These included the 1978 Air New Zealand hangar in Christchurch with a 124.5m segmental pre-stressed concrete span,and the 78 metre high South Rangitikei rail viaduct with rocking piers constructed in 1981.

Prof. Priestley was appointed Deputy Chair of the Department of Building and Housing  to study the failures and catastrophic collapses experienced by the Canterbury Television (CTV) building, as well as three other notable structures, which formed a very important part of Royal Commission of Enquiry held there to formulate recommendations for future developments.

Contribution as Educator:

Prof. Priestley had a profound impact on educational institutions in three continents; University of Canterbury,University of California San Diego, and the ROSE School. He was primary advisor for more than 25 PhD students and many masters students. His research resulted in more than 450 papers, 250 research reports, and he rote three books “Seismic Design of Concrete and Masonry Buildings” with T. Paulay (1992), “Seismic Design and Retrofit of Bridges” (1996) with F. Seible and M. Calvi, and “Displacement-Based Seismic Design of Structures” with M. Calvi and M. Kowalsky (2007). All of these are regarded as definitive texts in their areas.

Prof. Priestley received more than 30 awards for research publications. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society of NZ,the Institute of Professional Engineers of NZ, NZSEE, and the American Concrete Institute. He held honorarydoctorates from ETH, Zurich, and Cujo, Argentina.

In 2014, in recognition of his contributions, Prof. Priestley was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. At that time, he said that his biggest contribution was in determining the best way to design structures for earthquake response.

Many Skills:
Prof. Priestley will be remembered for his passion, his clarity of thought, his perceptive and pointed questions, his ability to communicate complex concepts simply, his ability to inspire others, and his kindness to his students and many others who knew him.

Nigel is survived by his wife Jan, four children, four step children, and nine grandchildren.

1. http://www.iaee.or.jp/pdf/PriestleyObituary.pdf
2. http://www.roseschool.it/news/2015/02/94/tribute-to-prof-nigel-priestley-by-rebecca-priestley.html
3. http://jacobsschool.ucsd.edu/news/news_releases/release.sfe?id=1689
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