Alumni Spotlight: ‘Rolling’ with Mother Nature

Alumni Spotlight: ‘Rolling’ with Mother Nature

President's Associates

The following individuals have given annual gifts of at least $1,000. We salute their investment and invite you to join in supporting Cal State L.A. by making a gift online or calling (323) 343-4866.

  • James A. Bell ’97
  • Mr. & Mrs. Robert Bridenbecker ’66
  • Warren ’71 and Susan Bryant
  • Kyle C. Button
  • Monica Chew ’04
  • Geneva Aleece Clymer ’62
  • William J. Dermody ’71, ’74
  • Jaffe Dickerson
  • Darlene Finocchiaro ’83, ’90
  • Verdel la Cour Flores ’74
  • Ramon Garcia ’71
  • Art M. ’80 & Lillian ’96 Gastelum
  • The Gillett Family
  • Eva Frant ’66, ’72
  • Ernest E. Guerra ’80
  • Robert Hoffman
  • Harry S. Hong
  • Lillian Y. Kawaski ’72, ’80
  • Victor King
  • Art Leahy ’74
  • Dal H. Lee
  • Ronald W. Lee ’68
  • Ethan B. Lipton ’76, ’83 & Janet Lent
  • William ’82 & Kathy Lewis
  • Fred Lopez ’83
  • Gary J. Matus ’69
  • David ’67, ’76 & Rosemary ’70 McNutt
  • Louis R. Negrete ’57
  • Nancy Nguyen ’97
  • Sheryl Okuno ’87
  • Charles H. Palmer ’53, ’60
  • George A. Pardon
  • Pamela Angerer Payne ’81, ’91, ’95
  • Thomas N. Peterson
  • Stephen E. Pickett ’75
  • Peter Quan
  • Philip J. Quigley ’67
  • Jorge Ramirez ’04
  • Chris Rapp ’76
  • Collette Rocha
  • Timothy Wayne Rogers ’82
  • Anthony R. Ross & Laverne White
  • A. Sami Siddiqui ’76
  • Albert Tattoni ’60
  • Linda Trevillian
  • Gilbert Vasquez ’64
  • Elizabeth Wheeler ’81
  • Patricia Louise Wohlford ’68
  • Tony Wong ’69, ’74
  • Wilbert Woo ’70, ’77
  • Zeus Xioco ’03
  • William Jih—Shen Yang ’58
  • Donald J. Zuk ’61
Portrait of Nabih Youssef ’71.
Nabih Youssef ’71

Soon after the 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Chile in February, structural engineer Nabih Youssef ’71 MS was on a trek to the South American nation to carry out a research and reconnaissance mission.

Youssef and his colleagues were eager to discover what caused countless structures to crumble, while others remained standing tall, in order to develop more advanced best practices for the field. The Chilean earthquake, which resulted in the loss of several hundred lives and hundreds of thousands of structures, ranked as one of the biggest shakes, even causing the world to spin a bit faster.

“Earthquakes are the biggest research labs,” said Youssef, the founder and president of Nabih Youssef and Associates, a leading structural engineering firm in downtown Los Angeles. “It’s where we can truly see the results of Mother Nature testing our knowledge. In every event worldwide, Mother Nature gives us something new.”

In Chile, Youssef said, he learned many things. For one, his confidence in U.S. building codes that separate structural and nonstructural building components as a means for dissipating energy and strain during a quake was reinforced. A building withstands more violent and longer periods of shaking when it can “absorb and roll” with the energy, he said.

Similarly, steel plates—like those used in the newly opened L.A. Live Tower in downtown—might be a good alternative to reinforced concrete, providing greater flexibility and movement when shaking occurs.

“You can never overpower Mother Nature, and you can’t resist earthquakes. You learn to absorb and dissipate them,” Youssef said.

Working in the field of structural engineering over the last 43 years, Youssef has advanced practices in earthquake engineering, leaving his mark on structure design throughout the city and the world.

One of his most significant contributions to the industry, colleagues have said, was enacting performance-based design, a concept that emphasizes use, purpose, cost-effectiveness and structural soundness from inception to completion. In the L.A. Live Tower—which Nahib and Associates worked on—for instance, this approach played an important role in determining everything from building shape to construction materials.

Youssef and his team’s innovative approach, opting for ¼ inch steel plates, rather than the standard 36-inch thick reinforced concrete walls, resulted in a more flexible, light, and budget-friendly building. The tower was not only completed nearly six months ahead of schedule, but had roughly 27,000 square feet of extra space in hotel rooms, lounges and condominiums, he said.

“It was a great opportunity in my career to capitalize on the last 20 years of research in the steel plate phenomenon, and take it beyond analysis and beyond the code,” Youssef said, noting that the city put together a structural peer review committee to clear the design.

Nabih Youssef ’71 points out the projects he has worked on. Structural engineer Nabih Youssef ’71 talks about some of his past projects, and explains what was done to construct Stanford Hospital.

“Above all, we had the ability to design a system that has a more predictable performance,” he added. “…When you do new avant-garde solutions, everyone has to buy into the possible risks and buy into the possible rewards.”

Other buildings which Youssef and his team have worked on include the retrofit of Los Angeles’ City Hall and the Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral with base isolation—a technique that separates a building from its base with rubber that absorbs movement and essentially allows buildings to “roll” in earthquakes. They also renovated the Los Angeles Coliseum and Dodger Stadium, worked on the expansion of the J. Paul Getty Museum Villa, the Skirball Jewish Cultural Center, and aided in the construction of Stanford Hospital.

Prior to starting his own firm in 1989, Youssef also worked on the Moscow World Trade Center and structural engineering projects for the Shah of Iran, among other things.