October 21, 2004 Thursday
Respected engineer ‘was ahead of his time’: U.S.-born structural
engineer John Adjeleian worked on more than 3,000 buildings in
private practice, as well as having a well-regarded career in
academia, writes Charles Enman.
Charles Enman, The Ottawa Citizen
For four decades, John Adjeleian was one of the leading structural
engineers in Ottawa.
In 1955, Mr. Adjeleian opened the city’s first office dedicated to
structural engineering work. At Carleton University, he served for
six years as chair of the department of civil and environmental
He worked on many significant Ottawa buildings, including the
National Arts Centre, Canada Post headquarters, the Aviation Museum
and Minto Place.
Of the 3,000 buildings on which his company worked, he was most proud
of the Fathers of Confederation Building in Charlottetown.
In Toronto, he assured the sound construction of the SkyDome.
“John’s company was only medium-sized, with perhaps 30 or 40
engineers, but the amount of work they did was phenomenal, a
testament to the quality of his expertise and leadership,” said Jag
Humar, a former Carleton colleague who was a consultant at Mr.
Adjeleian’s company, Adjeleian Allen Rubeli Ltd.
Mr. Adjeleian, who died of heart and kidney problems last Thursday,
at the age of 81, will be warmly remembered in Carleton’s faculty of
engineering, according to Dean Samy Mahmoud.
“As a teacher, John was ahead of his time,” Mr. Mahmoud said. “Years
after his retirement, students in the faculty are still instilled
with his values and vision.”
When he joined the of civil and environmental engineering department
in 1975, Mr. Adjeleian had already chalked up two decades as an
active structural engineer in the city. One year later, in 1976, he
was named chairman of the department, a position he held until 1982,
when he became professor emeritus.
As chairman, he brought two new emphases to the department: That
engineering students must be grounded in the practicalities of their
discipline and they must be sensitive to the esthetic considerations
that were normally the province of architects.
“John introduced second-year students to real-world projects, so they
would appreciate what designs were practical and feasible versus what
was merely imaginable,” Mr. Mahmoud said.
“He also encouraged teamwork that brought engineers and architects
together, so that the two solitudes could begin appreciating each
Of the many honours he received, Mr. Adjeleian was proudest of his
honorary membership in the Ontario Association of Architects.
Many buildings on the Carleton campus benefited from his company’s
design, including the MacKenzie Engineering Building, the Arts Tower,
the Minto Residences and the athletic facilities.
Professional success aside, Mr. Adjeleian will be remembered as a man
of rare human touch.
“He was a ‘double-A’ personality, always on the move — but that
never cost him anything in terms of wit,” Mr. Humar recalled. “He was
so self-deprecating, so full of laughter. And he had a deep
compassion that made him wonderful company.”
At Carleton and at his own firm, Mr. Adjeleian proved a natural
“It was surprising in so fine a gentleman, but leadership came
effortlessly to him,” Mr. Humar recalled.
“He always acknowledged the achievements of people working under him,
and his kindness allowed him to carry people along. No one was
Mr. Adjeleian was born of Armenian parents in Worcester,
After serving in the U.S. army, he enrolled at McGill University,
where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and civil
engineering in 1952. His marks earned him admission to the
university’s Scarlet Key Society.
>From McGill, he went on scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, where he received a master of science in structural
engineering in 1955.
Though he could have set up offices in many places, Mr. Adjeleian
wished to return to Canada.
“He was a champion of this country, and always wished Canadians
understood how fortunate they are to live here,” said his wife,
In his leisure time, he was an enthusiastic member of the Kiwanis
Club, which recognized his 40 years of participation several months
He had three sons, Michael, David and Paul, and a daughter, Hasmig.
“Family came first with him,” Hasmig Adjeleian recalled. “He was a
wonderfully intuitive father, always showing up just when you needed
Mr. Adjeleian’s funeral was held Tuesday at St. Mark’s Anglican
Church. He was buried at Beechwood Cemetery.
GRAPHIC: Photo: Years after retiring from the engineering faculty at
Carleton University, students remain instilled with his emphasis on
merging esthetic considerations with engineering solutions.