NZ Geomechanics News

Peter George Fookes 

Peter Fookes’ career began in the 1950s. When he began there was a loosely coined ‘geology for engineers’ but no formal career structure in engineering geology.

After graduating from Queen Mary College, London he entered the world of civil engineering as a young geologist. Coming under Professor Skempton’s influence, he studied for an external PhD at Queen Mary College, London which led to a position as a lecturer at Imperial College in the developing engineering geology group.

From there he never looked back, helping with his commercial experience to build up the world’s first MSc in Engineering Geology, before moving on to develop his consultancy in 1971.

Over the following years he was a pioneer in the application of geology to civil engineering and, using his initial chemistry background, in the influence of desert materials on concrete durability. He was affectionately called the “father of engineering geomorphology” as he was a great supporter of the use of geomorphology on engineering projects.

Alongside his busy commercial consultancy, he never lost his links to academia continuing to lecture, lead field courses and initiate ground-breaking research while playing a leading role in the Engineering Group of the Geological Society.

Fookes was a prolific writer publishing some 200 papers and 10 books, still writing at the time of his death. Many of these have been seminal works. His writing was hallmarked by its pragmatic approach allied to the use of easy to understand graphics.

He helped to set up and was a chair of the Engineering Group of the Geological Society and chaired many of their working parties. His contributions were over the full range of geological application and resulted in awards from many disciplines, including Glossop Medal (engineering geology), Honorary Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (engineering geomorphology), Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (civil engineering) and Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Concrete Technology (concrete).

He also held several visiting professorships, was awarded Doctor of Science (Engineering) at Imperial College and was a recipient of the William Smith Medal of the Geological Society.

If anything sums up Peter’s approach to the world of geology and engineering it is the ground model, so logically bringing the two disciplines together. His approach was to characterise a site or infrastructure route by considering its historical development from the environment of deposition of the original rocks and soils, through global tectonic changes to the geomorphological processes which have most recently shaped the near surface landscape.

This philosophy was brought together in the first Glossop Lecture he presented in 1997, the resulting publication virtually a manual in its own right with many illustrations becoming standard references for widespread use.

The economic expansion of the Middle East from the 1970s and the development that accompanied it provided a huge workload for European and American engineers that had little previous experience of engineering in hot dry climates.

Peter identified inadequacies in the aggregates used in the concrete, pioneered the concept of salt attack resulting from high rates
of evaporation and was at the forefront of developing guidelines to good practice now embodied in regional standards.

The five articles comprising Concrete in the Middle East, published in Concrete in 1977 are still widely referenced.

One of his last papers was “The Engineering Geology of Concrete in Hot Dry Lands” was published
in 2019.

This obituary is summarised from one published by Ground Engineering in October 2020 that was written by John Charman. A much more detailed account of his career was published in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology in 2008. 

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