Elio D’Appolonia, Geotechnical and Foundations Giant, Dies at 97


Elio “D’App” D’Appolonia, Ph.D., P.E., Hon.M.ASCE, NAE, a giant of geotechnical and foundation engineering, has died. He was 97 years old.

A longtime Pittsburgh resident, D’Appolonia started the renowned consulting engineers firm bearing his name in 1956. Employing many of his family members and former students from his time as a faculty member at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), the firm grew into a group of companies employing more than 600 people in offices around the world. Among their many high-profile projects were the Bethlehem Steel plant in Burns Harbor, IN, and the Olympic Velodrome constructed for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

D’Appolonia joined ASCE in 1949. Highly active in the Society throughout his life, he served as Region 4 Director, 1987-1989, and was chair of the Executive Committee of the ASCE Soil Mechanics and Foundations Division. In 1988, he presented the Twenty-Fourth Terzaghi Lecture for ASCE.

He received many awards from ASCE, including the Thomas A. Middlebrooks Award in 1969 and the Pittsburgh Section’s 1972 Engineer of the Year Award.

A native of Alberta, Canada, D’Appolonia earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Alberta in the 1940s. During this time he researched and engineered foundations for the construction of airports, highways, and power plants in the permafrost of Alaska and northern Canada. The resulting published paper won the Keefer Medal from the Engineering Institute of Canada in 1948. D’Appolonia earned his Ph.D. in structural engineering at the University of Illinois and later received honorary doctorates from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Genoa (Italy).

D’Appolonia was the husband of Violet Mary D’Appolonia, father of Kenneth, Michael, Linda, Mark, and the late David, brother of Elise Whetstone, and grandfather to 11 and great-grandfather to 26.

For more on D’Appolonia’s life and achievements, visit the ASCE Pittsburgh Section website.


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  1. Simply the greatest. He changed my life. By stopping on the shoulder of a four lane highway .with children in back seat 1954….reversing. Lowering his window and saying What the hell are you doing?…. He cared for me in a rainstorm. Laughing I said your right on…….we had a unique bond…..correcting him on saying my last name he remark time after time nuts or bolts what’s the difference. A true legend. A friend a teacher a man a doer vital a joy to be wth…the best ……months later chief engineer chungju plant later nyse member dap taught me well. Carnegie Mellon civil engineer 53


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