Nigel Priestley: December 23, 2014

PEER is saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Nigel Priestley on December 23, 2014. “Nigel Priestley has made tremendous contributions to the field of earthquake engineering in the New Zealand, the U.S., Italy, and elsewhere around the world,” said PEER Director Stephen Mahin. “His legacy will endure though his innovative ideas, the researchers and practitioners worldwide who have had the pleasure of working with him, and the ongoing contributions of the many students he taught and mentored.”

Professor José I. Restrepo of UC San Diego writes:
I am deeply saddened to let you know of the loss of Nigel Priestley, Emeritus Professor in our Department. Nigel passed away peacefully on Tuesday December 23 in Christchurch, New Zealand, surrounded by his wife, Jan, and children, after a long battle with cancer.

Nigel had a tremendous worldwide impact in earthquake engineering, and particularly, in the field of Structural Seismic Design. At the age of 20, he obtained a Bachelor in Civil Engineering from the University of Canterbury and completed his Ph.D. three years after at the same institution. Nigel went on to work for the New Zealand Central Laboratories where he carried pioneering research in structural concrete involving complex laboratory and field full-scale testing.

From 1975 till 1986, Nigel taught at the University of Canterbury where he performed acclaimed research work on prestressed concrete focusing on thermal and seismic design of prestressed concrete tanks, ductility based design of masonry structures, thermal and seismic design of bridges and seismic design methods incorporating rocking foundations.

In 1986, Nigel joined the Department of Applied Mechanics and Engineering Sciences at UC San Diego, and was a founding faculty of our Department of Structural Engineering. With damaging earthquakes in Whittier in 1987, Loma Prieta in 1989 and Northridge in 1994, Nigel contributed to the unprecedented growth of the Charles Lee Powell Structural Engineering Laboratories. Among many achievements, Nigel led the way to the seismic design and retrofit of bridges in the State of California. Today, Caltrans follows many of the recommendations that stemmed from his research. He was also instrumental in the development of performance-based seismic design methods, which were first used to design container wharves for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and form the basis of the current ASCE/COPRI code for the design of container wharves. Furthermore, he was also instrumental in the development innovative precast prestressed seismic systems for PCI-NSF Precast Seismic Structural Systems project.

During the time as an UC San Diego active faculty, Nigel published two very highly regarded books: Seismic Design of Reinforced Concrete and Masonry Buildings, with Prof. Tom Paulay, and Seismic Design and Retrofit of Bridges, with Profs. Michelle Calvi and Frieder Seible. Nigel 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 students worldwide on ways to reduce seismic vulnerability.

As a result of the devastating 2010-2011 earthquake sequence that affected the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, Nigel was appointed Deputy Chair of the Department of Building and Housing to study the failures and catastrophic collapses experienced by four buildings, which form a very important part of Royal Commission of Enquiry held there to formulate recommendations for future developments.

Nigel was also an acclaimed educator and left a legacy of outstanding practicing engineers and university professors in the United States, Europe, Latin America and New Zealand. For his research contributions, Nigel received many awards, and honorary doctorates from ETH, Zurich and the Universidad de Cuyo Argentina. Last September, he was bestowed with the New Zealand Order of Merit for his contribution to Structural Engineering.

Nigel’s funeral was held in Christchurch, New Zealand, on January 3, 2015.