EERI and NZSEE Publish Nigel Priestley Oral History

nigel priestleyThe Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) and the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE) are excited to jointly release the 30th volume of Connections: The EERI Oral History Series, featuring the late Dr. Nigel Priestley—a significant figure in the field of earthquake engineering in his native New Zealand, the United States, and globally. The interviews for this volume were conducted in the final year of his life, by Richard Sharpe, Life Member of NZSEE, and Nigel’s daughter Rebecca Priestley, a historian of science with the Centre for Science in Society at Victoria University of Wellington. In the words of NZSEE president Helen Ferner, “This oral history reinforces the wonderful cooperation and international relationships that are associated with our field of endeavour.” 

During his career, Dr. Priestley had a lasting impact on three institutions of higher education: the University of Canterbury, the University of California, San Diego, and the ROSE School in Pavia, Italy. After earning his PhD in 1966, he spent a decade with the NZ Ministry of Works, leading extensive studies on bridges and buildings. As a faculty member at the University of Canterbury, he conducted research on the seismic behaviour of masonry structures in collaboration with Professor Tom Paulay, and served as the president of NZSEE from 1985-1986. He then spent over a decade on the faculty at the University of California, San Diego, before becoming Co-Director of the ROSE School, where he continued until 2007. Dr. Priestley published more than 450 papers, mainly on earthquake engineering, and received numerous awards for his research. He was the co-author of three seismic design books: Seismic Design of Concrete and Masonry Buildings, Seismic Design and Retrofit of Bridges, and Displacement-Based Seismic Design of Structures. 

Dr. Priestley served on the engineering advisory group and the Royal Commission established by the New Zealand Government to investigate building collapse in the 2010–2011 Canterbury earthquakes, just one of the many episodes in his long career discussed in this volume. As his daughter Rebecca, co-interviewer for this volume observes, he “also read and wrote poetry, played classical guitar and was an accomplished carpenter. I think it was this mixture of precision and creativity that led to his best work, which was marked by a fresh way of looking at engineering problems and demonstrated in his accounts of how to apply these new ideas to the design of structures, particularly buildings and bridges.” 

The EERI Oral History series is available free of charge in PDF format. This ongoing series publishes interviews with prominent figures in the fields associated with earthquake engineering and earthquake resilience to preserve the rich history of those who have shaped seismic design theory and practice. Click here to download a copy of the Nigel Priestley oral history. 

With the launch of this volume, EERI is introducing a new option for members who wish to obtain print copies of the Connections oral histories. Print-on-demand copies are available from Barnes and Noble for US $19.95 plus shipping. Order your copy here.

EERI gratefully acknowledges production support provided by FEMA/U.S. Department of Homeland Security under grant EMW-2020-CA-00029-S01.