Seismic design New Zealander Nigel Priestley wins Freyssinet Medal

Nigel Priestley photo

Issue 27 – May 2011

New Zealander Nigel Priestley has been awarded a 2010 Freyssinet Medal 'in recognition of outstanding technical contributions in the field of structural concrete'. The Freyssinet Medal is the highest distinction awarded by the International Federation for Structural Concrete (fib) and is awarded every 4 years at a fib congress. Dr Priestley is a member of fib Commission 7, Seismic design, which develops state-of-the-art documents about issues in seismic design of concrete structures.

Priestley received his doctorate from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1967. He is Emeritus Professor of Structural Engineering at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), Emeritus codirector of the Rose School (Pavia, Italy), and also works as a consulting structural engineer. Priestley's research focuses on the seismic design of concrete and masonry structures, and on seismic design philosophy. He has received over 30 international awards for his research and has published over 650 books, technical papers, and reports mainly related to seismic design.

Before he left New Zealand in 1986 to go to UCSD, Priestley was active in code and design recommendation preparation in New Zealand, including masonry design and non-designed minor masonry buildings, and in New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering Incorporated study groups. Recently he has been involved in writing draft 'straw man' codes on performance-based seismic design. These efforts include a seismic design code for the Port of Los Angeles, a new seismic design code for bridges in Australia (currently under consideration) and a similar exercise in New Zealand (although the Canterbury earthquakes mean this has a lower priority now), and a general performance-based seismic design code for structures in Europe.

Priestley is also the principal author of a 2007 seismic design text, 'Displacement-based seismic design of structures'. This book is the end product of about 15 years research and attempts to persuade designers to change the way the required strength for earthquake resistance is determined, and how this strength is distributed through the structure. Priestley says this is the most satisfying work he has been involved with, and that this work is the basis for the code-writing exercises he is currently working on.

Priestley's consulting work involves design, analysis, or checking of seismic performance of new and existing structures. He has participated in, and co-authored reports for numerous post earthquake reconnaissance teams in a mix of countries and cities, including Chile (1985), Whittier (1987), Costa Rica (1990), Northridge (1994), and Kobe (1995). He was the leader of the seismic checking team for the Rion-Antirion Bridge, Greece, and was the co-concept designer for the repair, retrofit, and upgrading to 100% increase in seismic capacity of the Bolu Viaduct in Turkey (Duzce earthquake, 1999).

Note: Priestley has been appointed as Deputy Chair on the panel of experts appointed by the Department of Building and Housing (DBH) to investigate the performance of the Canterbury Television, Pyne Gould Corporation, Forsyth Barr, and Hotel Grand Chancellor buildings in the Canterbury earthquakes. The panel, chaired by construction law expert Sherwyn Williams, will provide guidance on the methodology of the investigations and peer review the findings. For more information about this panel read the DBH article 'Experts appointed to assist investigation' (

Published in building.