Remembering Professor Nigel Priestley, a leader in earthquake engineering

It is with deep sadness that we report the passing of our friend, colleague, mentor and engineering visionary, Professor Nigel Priestley.Nigel passed away peacefully on December 23, 2014, in Christchurch, New Zealand, surrounded by his wife, Jan, and children, after a long battle with cancer. 

Professor Priestley was a true leader in earthquake engineering having had a long career spanning multiple continents and organizations. Nigel began his engineering studies at the University of Canterbury where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering at the age of 20. He then continued his education at the same university and earned his PhD at the age of 23. Nigel spent 10 years as the head of the Structures Laboratory of the Ministry of Works in New Zealand followed by 10 years on the faculty at the University of Canterbury from 1975 to 1986. During his time at Canterbury, Professor Priestley conducted extensive research on the seismic behavior of masonry and concrete structures, in collaboration with Professor Tom Paulay, research that is largely recognized as the basis for current understanding on the topic. 

SEAOC President Ryan Kersting (right) leads directors in a toast to Dr. Priestley at a SEAOC Board dinner on Jan. 9 in San Diego.

SEAOC President Ryan Kersting (right) leads directors in a toast to Dr. Priestley at a SEAOC Board dinner on Jan. 9 in San Diego.

In 1986, Professor Priestley made the move to the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and joined the Department of Applied Mechanics and Engineering Sciences, where he focused significant attention on the seismic design of concrete bridges and the development of displacement based seismic design principles. While at UCSD, Nigel was a founding faculty of the current Department of Structural Engineering, where he contributed to the unprecedented growth of the Charles Lee Powell Structural Engineering Laboratories. While at UCSD, Professor Priestley published two highly acclaimed books: Seismic Design of Reinforced Concrete and Masonry Buildings, with Professor Tom Paulay and Seismic Design and Retrofit of Bridges, with Professors Michelle Calvi and Frieder Sieble. He has additionally published well of 600 technical papers and journal articles. 

Nigel spent 14 years at UCSD until his departure to co-found the ROSE School in Pavia, Italy which has became known as a renowned program in earthquake engineering and engineering seismology. Throughout his career, Nigel was also active in engineering consulting across the world and also served as the Chairman of Tobolski Watkins Engineering, Inc. Nigel spent much of the end of his career consulting in Christchurch after the series of strong earthquakes that devastated the region. As a result of the series of earthquake that ravages the Christchurch region, Nigel was appointed Deputy Chair of the Department of Buildings and Housing to study the failures and catastrophic collapses of four buildings. In recognition of his contributions, Professor Priestley was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. 

Nigel had a profound impact on the earthquake engineering industry and has helped develop some of the best engineers in the industry. He was an extremely well respected scholar and his work has been a major reference in the fields of masonry and reinforced concrete behavior, design of concrete bridges and displacement based seismic design. He will be remembered for his inspiring intellect, humble personality, character, adventurous personality and caring heart. 

The entire earthquake engineering community would like to extend its sincere condolences to Professor Priestley’s family.

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