Friday, August 8th, 2014
New Memoir Presents an Armenian-Iranian-American Engineer’s Odyssey
This Armenian-Iranian-American odyssey is a story of one life with three rich and distinct cultures as an omnipresent backdrop to a prolific career in earthquake engineering. Yaghoubian invented and holds the patent for an ingenious earthquake base isolation system that enabled the broken Getty Kouros statue of a nude male to stand on its own two marble feet after 2,500 years.
The memoir touches on many personal as well as professional subjects: growing up in the Armenian minority in Iran during the 1950s, the challenges of adapting to student life in America, the ways in which careers are shaped, playing a role in innovative engineering initiatives, and what it means to be an informed citizen in one’s adopted country.
Yaghoubian’s parents met as children in an Iranian orphanage set up to help children whose parents died in the Armenian Genocide. Yaghoubian grew up in a gated compound of mostly Armenian families in Tehran and writes vividly of a community grateful to its host country for the opportunity to live and prosper as a Christian minority in a Muslim country.
He chronicles the beginning of the Armenian Youth Cultural Organization, later known as Ararat, being instrumental in the phenomenal growth of the Armenian Scout Organization that held a deep significance for the community: “Most of the activities were ceremonial… before audiences of admiring parents and relatives who considered the scouts as the Armenian army in diaspora.”
Yaghoubian joins his own diaspora when he enrolls at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign to study civil engineering and writes with humor and warmth about his early experiences. The shock of communal showers, amazement at the tea bag and confusion over the “hot dog” are experiences familiar to many immigrants, and the young engineering student takes them in his stride.
In his memoir, he seamlessly interweaves personal and historical material while chronicling a professional path that is as testament to the hand of fate as it is to drive and determination.
When the Soviet Union launches the first Sputnik satellite in 1957, U.S. universities began placing urgent new emphasis on engineering to compete with the Soviets. Yaghoubian was at a top university and perfectly placed to excel in his field. He focused primarily on design and testing of reinforced concrete structural elements.
He returned to Tehran after graduation and took an engineering job for $100 a month while foreign engineers were paid $5,000 a month. Demonstrating his innovative capabilities, The Netherlands government granted Yaghoubian postgraduate fellowship to study in Holland, United Kingdom and France.
On a visit to California he checks out geotechnical engineering salaries and, in a twist of fate, ends up working for Dames & Moore (D&M), the premier geotechnical and environmental engineering firm in the world. Realizing the importance of understanding American jurisprudence in his chosen career, Yaghoubian obtained his law degree.
Closely working with giants such as Dr. Charles Richter, the inventor of world famous earthquake Richter Scale, Yaghoubian became increasingly specialized in earthquake engineering as a critical component of environmental sciences. Yaghoubian produced the first comprehensive environmental impact statement for cross-country oil and gas corridors in California.
On a visit to the Getty Museum in Malibu he saw that the antiquities were vulnerable to earthquakes and developed the base isolation system to protect them. The system made art objects behave as if suspended in air and remain unaffected by shaking. This pioneering method reverberated through museums worldwide. Parallel with the Getty Museum, Yaghoubian was also involved with the design and construction of the renowned Blackhawk vintage cars museum in California. The challenge facing the construction of Blackhawk Museum had its own hair-raising aspects detailed in the book.
Based on the success of this new technology, Yaghoubian was asked to evaluate the fragmented Getty Kouros dating to 530BC – “Kouros” being the ancient Greek marble statues of male nudes. He invented an ingenious earthquake base isolation system for fragile antiquities. That, combined with a mechanical joint system, was what made it possible for the Getty Kouros to stand again after 2,500 years. News of the conservation breakthrough at the Getty spread quickly and museum staff was dispatched around the world to make presentations.
These presentations, however, became more about self-promotion and less about sharing technology, and Yaghoubian writes about how he came face-to-face with the fiercely competitive, darker side of the art world. Credit for the ground-breaking technology was being taken on all sides and by people who knew nothing of the intricacies of the base isolation system. Yaghoubian decided to patent his invention, a decision designed to end misinformation.
Yaghoubian’s story will resonate with many readers. The engineering aspects are detailed, informative and relevant, the history significant, and the immigrant experience universal. The story will also resonate with California readers, since so much of the Yaghoubian’s work is based in the Golden State and is related to earthquake engineering.
His personal life was not without its shakes. After his marriage ends, in another remarkable twist of fate, he runs into an Armenian friend he had not seen for over three decades. They married soon after.
‘… And Then I Met The Getty Kouros’ is a compelling and beautifully written memoir presented in an open and factual manner. It is published by Quantech Press and will be available for purchase on Amazon on September 1.