Dr. Rolf Peter Brenner


Obituary for Rolf Peter Brenner (1937-2019)

On March 31, 2019, Rolf Peter Brenner passed away after a lengthy illness in Weinfelden in the eastern part of Switzerland, where he had also gone to school in his young days. After graduating from high school, he studied civil engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland, from where he graduated in 1962 with top marks. He gained his first professional experience working for the consulting companies Conrad Zschokke in Geneva, Switzerland and Dames & Moore in San Francisco, California. From 1966 to 1971, he studied soil mechanics and soil dynamics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA. His PhD dissertation was concerned with the effect of vegetation on the stability of slopes. Afterwards he returned to Switzerland and worked in the Research Institute of Military Constructions in Zurich, where he carried out studies on the effect of nuclear explosions on soil and underground shelters.

From 1974 to 1981, he was a faculty member seconded by the Swiss Government in the Division of Geotechnical Engineering and the Director of the Soil Mechanics Laboratory at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok, Thailand. His main research work at AIT was on the geotechnical properties of soft clay in the greater Bangkok region. He was also involved in geotechnical investigations for the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. In 1981, he returned to Switzerland and worked for Electrowatt Engineering (nowadays known as Poyry Switzerland) in Zurich. From 1997 onwards, he was an independent geotechnical and dam engineering consultant.

Peter Brenner was involved in dam projects in altogether 34 countries in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe for almost 30 years. He worked on several large embankment dam projects in the Middle East and, in particular, Iran, including the Ataturk dam in Turkey and the Mosul dam in Iraq, two of the largest rockfill dams in the world. For 12 years, he was also the project manager for the safety evaluation of the three large dams along the Daugava River in Latvia. He was also the geotechnical engineer for the foundation design of the 372 m high Liberation Tower in Kuwait.

In 1991, he was involved in the investigation of the massive Randa rockslide near Zermatt in Switzerland and the mudflows caused by the explosion of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines. He was one of the first foreign engineers to inspect the damage to the Sefid Rud buttress dam caused by the magnitude 7.6 Manjil earthquake in Iran, as he was in Iran at the time of the earthquake. Some 45,000 people were killed by this earthquake in the region of the dam. In 2009, he also joined the international team of dam experts, who inspected several dams in China damaged by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, which affected about 2000 dams and reservoirs.
Peter Brenner took a keen interest in the activities of the International Commission for Large Dams (ICOLD). He was the Chairman of the ICOLD Committee on Dam Foundations and was a member of the Committee on Embankment Dams until recently. He authored two ICOLD Bulletins on dam foundations and cut-off walls and participated actively in several other geotechnical bulletins. From 1991 to 2016, he attended most of the ICOLD Annual Meetings and Congresses.

Throughout his professional life, Peter Brenner was interested in applied research and published many technical papers on geotechnical problems, large embankment dams and earthquake effects on dams. In his later years, he was a visiting faculty member until 2004 at AIT and IHE Delft International Graduate School for Water and Development and a member of the panel of experts of an Iranian dam project until 2016.

I had the pleasure to work with Peter Brenner on several large dam projects in Albania, Latvia, Thailand and Iran. I also succeeded him as the Swiss-seconded faculty member at AIT in 1980. In the last couple of years, we travelled together to China, Vietnam and Laos, where we had the opportunity to visit various dam projects.

Besides a large number of technical books and journals, Peter Brenner also liked to collect technical reports from all the projects in which he was involved. He once told me that he had shown his impressive personal library to engineers from Mongolia, who told him that it was probably larger than that of the Academy of Technical Sciences in their country.
Peter Brenner was a hard worker and a known perfectionist. Many of his colleagues have fond memories of him and miss him very much.

Martin Wieland, Chairman, ICOLD Committee on Seismic Aspects of Dam Design, c/o Poyry Switzerland, Zurich

May 27, 2019