Issue 106 - December 2023

Obituary – Prof. Michele Jamiolkowski 

Michele Jamiolkowski was born in 1932 in Poland, where he spent his early years; he studied at Warsaw Technical University, obtaining a master’s degree in Soil Mechanics and Engineering Geology in 1959. As a young geotechnical engineer decided to forge strong international links, many of which had a profound influence on his long and distinguished career. He undertook postgraduate studies at the University of Kiev, the Technical University of Torino in Italy, the University of Laval in Quebec, and at MIT in the USA.

In 1964 he founded the engineering consulting company Studio Geotecnico Italiano in Italy, which had become his adopted country and he remained very closely involved with Studio Geotecnico Italiano for the rest of his life. In 1969 he was appointed to a professorship in the Department of Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Torino, at which he continued to be based throughout his career and where he was Professor Emeritus. 

In 1979 he was one of the founders of the first doctorate program in geotechnical engineering in Italy, and he pioneered much of the high-quality research in soil mechanics for which Italy is especially well known. 

His primary research interests included the mechanical behaviour of soils, laboratory and in situ testing, soil dynamics, bearing capacity and settlements of shallow foundations, and soil improvement. He always combined fundamental soil mechanics with practical geotechnical engineering. He is well-known for his early work on preloading of soft clays and the use of vertical drains for large oil tanks and embankments, and he produced an influential CIRIA report on the topic. 

Jamiolkowski was a leader in the field of soil behaviour – especially small strain stiffness – both through laboratory and in situ testing. There is barely an in-situ test for which Michele Jamiolkowski has not played a major role in advancing the state of the art, whether it be cone-penetration test (CPT), piezocone, dilatometer, self-boring pressuremeter tests or geophysics; he is particularly well known for his classical laboratory calibration chamber tests for investigating CPT behaviour in sands. He undertook pioneering work on important ground treatment processes such as jet grouting. 

Michele Jamiolkowski was closely involved with many prestigious consulting projects around the world, too many to list them all, but he was particularly celebrated for his presidency of the International Committee for Safeguarding the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In 1990, when the Tower was leaning rather too far for comfort and the medieval tower in Pavia had collapsed the previous year, killing four people, Jamiolkowski was appointed by the Italian Government to lead a multidisciplinary commission of international experts to prevent the Pisa tower meeting the same fate and to take actions to stop the Leaning Tower of Pisa leaning any further. For more than a decade (1990–2001), working closely with outstanding colleagues, he ensured the safety of the Tower for a further 300 years, through the technique of underexcavation. Michele Jamiolkowski always said that the Pisa project was the one that gave him the most sleepless nights and one of the toughest challenges in construction he ever faced. 

Jamiolkowski had also been geotechnical consultant for other hugely prestigious and world-famous projects, to name a few: the Venice defence system against high water (the MOSE project); the proposed suspension bridge over the Messina Straits; the restoration and strengthening of the bell tower at San Marco Square in Venice; the reconstruction and development of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl. For over a decade, he also chaired the international panel of experts for the Development of the second world largest copper mine at Zelazny Most, in Poland and the technical committee for safeguarding the Rome historic monuments during the construction of the tunnels for the new subway line C. 

Michele Jamiolkowski was invited to present numerous general reports at international conferences and to deliver many significant lectures throughout the world, including the James Forrest Lecture at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London; the Manuel Rocha Lecture in Lisbon; the Terzaghi Oration at the 15th ICSMGE Conference in Istanbul; the Szechy Memorial Lecture in Budapest. He was a keynote Lecturer at the Skempton Conference at Imperial College, the Ralph B. Peck Lecturer at the ASCE Geo-Institute, the ZaChieh Moh Lecturer in Taipei, the Victor de Mello Lecturer, the 1st Tachebotarioff Lecturer in St. Petersburg, the 6th J.K. Mitchell Lecturer and the 53rd Rankine Lecturer of the British Geotechnical Society in London. 

He held many awards and honours, among them the De Beer Award from the Belgium Geotechnical Society; the Karl Terzaghi Award and the Ralph B. Peck Lecture Award, both from the ASCE; the Italian Award ‘Saviour of the Art’. He was the foreign associate of the US National Academy for Engineering, the citation being “for the design and engineering of major projects on difficult soils, and for international leadership in geotechnical education and research”. He was the corresponding member of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Honorary International Member of the Japanese Geotechnical Society, Honorary Professor of the Academia Sinica of Guangzhou, China and Commendatore of the Italian Republic bestowed by the President of Italy. In many ways, one of the most prestigious of all Jamiolkowski honours was his election to the Presidency of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering. He served as President from 1994 to 1997. He authored over 270 publications, many of which were state-of-the-art keynote lectures or reports.

The day after Jamiolkowski passed away, the industry learned that he was one of two recipients of the 2023 ISSMGE Lifetime Achievement Medal. This was a fitting culmination of a career filled so full of multiple “once-in-a-lifetime” achievements.

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Issue 106 - December 2023, NZ Geomechanics News
Issue 106 - December 2023, NZ Geomechanics News

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