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Biggs, who helped design Central Artery, dead at 80

John Biggs
John Biggs

Professor Emeritus John M. Biggs of civil engineering, who helped design Boston's Central Artery and many of the country's tallest buildings, died on September 3 after a brief illness. He was 80 years old.

Professor Biggs, a native of Fort Worth, TX, received the SB from MIT in 1941 and the SM in 1947. He joined the faculty as an instructor in 1947 and was appointed assistant professor in 1949. He became an associate professor in 1955 and a full professor in 1963. He retired in 1982.

An authority on structural dynamics, he wrote a widely used textbook on the subject. He also was a specialist in earthquake engineering, wind forces on structures, the induction of bridge vibrations by traffic, and protective construction for nuclear sites.

As a director of the Civil Engineering Systems Laboratory, he played an important role in creating the Integrated Civil Engineering System (ICES). He served as president of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers (BSCE) in 1965-66 and was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He received the Moisseiff (1955) and Wellington (1960) awards from the ASCE and the Fitzgerald Medal from the BSCE in 1953. The Engineering News-Record named him the Construction Man of the Year in 1965.

A consultant to numerous government agencies and private industrial groups, from 1949-54 Professor Biggs worked on the design of Boston's Central Artery, now the site of the Big Dig. He also helped plan many nuclear power plants in the US and abroad, primarily with regard to earthquake-resistant design.

Professor Biggs was a partner in the Cambridge firm of Hansen, Holley and Biggs. In this role, he consulted on the construction of many skyscrapers, including the John Hancock towers in Chicago and Boston.

A longtime resident of Lexington, MA, Professor Biggs retired to Sandwich, NH, where he served on the town planning board and was a trustee of the Federated Church of Sandwich and a director of the East Sandwich Chapel and Cemetery Association.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret (Thomson), and two sons, John of Oneonta, NY, and Andrew of Spokane, WA. A memorial service was held in the Methodist Meeting House in Sandwich last Saturday. Contributions in Professor Biggs' memory may be made to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, MIT Rm 1-383, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA, 02139.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 20, 2000.

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