Dr Allen George Davis, DSc, PhD, PE: 1938-2004


Dr Allen Davis was a fine, technically outstanding and innovatory leader in the international community of Civil Engineering geotechnics and NDT. Allen was born in Poonah, India, raised in Surrey and proceeded to study as an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham, where he won half blues for light heavyweight boxing and squash.  Allen graduated BSc, 1959, in Geology, MSc, 1963, in Foundation Engineering, PhD, 1966, in Soil Mechanics, and DSc, 1980, in Transportation & Environmental Planning from the University of Birmingham in England.


On graduating in 1959, Allen Davis worked as a diamond prospector for De Beers Consolidated, in South and Central Africa. On his return to the UK, he worked as a geotechnical engineer with Soil Mechanics Ltd., London, England - before returning to the University of Birmingham as an MSc course student in Foundation Engineering.


Allen’s early research under Prof Kolbuszewski focused on the phase equilibrium and engineering properties of Keuper Marl, a much misunderstood soft rock encountered widely during the construction of the motorway network in the Midlands of England. At this early stage in his career he demonstrated his vision, analysis and clarity of thought and writing that proved to be the hallmark of his long career. His papers were all the richer in detail as result of his fascination with hands on experience on site and in the laboratory. At this early stage in his career he published seminal papers in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and for CIRIA.


His two spells as Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer at the University of Birmingham were separated by a period of three years in the late 1960’s when he worked with CEBTP, Paris in geotechnical engineering. He undertook feasibility studies for highways and dams in Iraq, Iran, Algeria and France, and 500 km of Highway in the Sudan, for the World Bank. Thanks to his marriage to Andrée, in 1964, Allen was a fluent French speaker and writer.


In 1974 the CEBTP set up Testconsult CEBTP Ltd in Warrington, UK with Allen as technical director. At the same time he co-authored, with Dr Scott Dunn, perhaps his most highly cited paper: “From Theory to Experience with the Non destructive Vibration Testing of Piles” in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. At the time, the piling industry was not ready to have someone non-destructively test their piles! As usual, Dr Davis did not shrink from the fierce debates that followed. He was at least ten years ahead of his international competitors.


The French parent company, CEBTP, immediately recognised his abilities and he was head hunted from the University of Birmingham to Paris where he led the geotechnical and NDT research department and published a number of papers in French.. During these middle five years of his career he headed the United Nations Mission (Habitat) to Vietnam, to establish geotechnical and building materials testing laboratories.


In the early 1980’s he returned to England, for family reasons, and took up a post as technical director of Harrison and Company, a site investigation company. Within a couple of years he was back with the CEBTP group, working with Testconsult in Warrington. In 1987 he moved onwards again to manage the CEBTP Hong Kong geotechnical and materials testing company subsidiary. Always looking to innovate, he opened the American office of CEBTP (ESSI-Testconsult), Asheville, North Carolina and started evaluating the stiffness of concrete road slabs in Oklahoma and Arkansas in order to identify voiding and the effectiveness of re-grouting – another technically and contractually contentious area that he did not flinch from! 


With the removal of tariff barriers in the EEC, CEBTP withdrew from the USA to focus on the now-open European market – but Allen was not going to give up innovation! He continued to work in the USA as a freelance until joining STS Consultants, Inc., in Deerfield, IL as manager for NDT. Then followed a spell with Madsen, Kneppers & Associates, Salt Lake City, UT as manager for NDT. Finally, at an age when people in the UK would be thinking of retirement, he returned to the Chicago area in 1997 to take up a position as Senior Principal Engineer and Manager of the NDT group (initially, just himself…!!) at CTL (Construction Technology Laboratories, a former division of the Portland Cement Association), in Skokie, IL, USA.


During this last period in Skokie, IL he formed a particularly fruitful professional relationship with Claus and Mariana Peteresen of Germann Instruments, Copenhagen and Chicago as their principal international technical consultant: "a Titan". This led to the development of an enthusiastically received concrete testing system based on the frequency response function: “s’Mash”. With typical focus and doggedness, Allen had the system accepted by ASNT, ASTM and latterly ACI 228. Indeed Allen chaired the world’s most important, and prestigious, civil engineering NDT committee: ACI 228 NDT. At the point of his untimely and early death, Allen was a leader in the revision of ACI 228.R2 “NDT of Concrete Structures”. His work will continue to completion.


During his long career, Allen maintained productive relationships with universities on both sides of the Atlantic: serving as adjunct professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Utah, and as an honorary professor at École Spéciale des Travaux Publics in Paris, France.


Allen was past chairman of the American Concrete Institute (ACI) Committee 228, "Nondestructive Testing of Concrete" and a member of the RILEM Technical Committee on NDT, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and the Association of Drilled Shaft Contractors (ADSC). Allen was disappointed his medical problems kept him from ACI meetings in San Francisco at the end of October, and he had looked forward to attending them next Spring.


It goes without saying that Dr Davis was a frequent speaker at professional conferences and symposia, and the author of more than 80 technical articles and publications in the fields of civil engineering and building, transportation, and materials resources.

Allen was a tower of strength and mentor to his close professional friends and colleagues: Bernie Hertlein, STS Consultants Inc, Deerfield, IL, Aldo Delahaza, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Northbrook, IL, his close colleague, Malcolm Lim, CTL, Skokie, IL, Claus Petersen, Germann Instruments, Copenhagen - plus many other friends and compatriots on both sides of the Atlantic.

Allen Davis' sports interests focused on squash, in which he won a county championship, and later, on racquetball in the USA. When finally his orthopaedic surgeon lost patience with him - he had to choose skiing over his beloved racquetball! No recollection of Allen is complete without referring to his motoring history! As a young lecturer at the University of Birmingham he drove a Mk 2 Jaguar (essentially the E-type mechanicals) and in his final years drove a Cadillac with all the bells and whistles!


Dr Allen George Davis, Senior Principal Engineer, Nondestructive Testing Group, Construction Technology Laboratories, Skokie, IL, USA died on Tuesday morning, 26th October 2004, in Wheeling, IL, USA of pancreatic cancer, only recently diagnosed. He was 66 years old.

Allen will be sorely missed by his international friends and colleagues and is survived by his wife, Andrée; two daughters, Catherine Davis of Santa Fe, N.M., USA and Corinne Davis of Culcheth, England; and two granddaughters, Chloe and Isabelle.


We wish him well on his final journey!!!


Contributed by Professor Mike Forde, FREng, University of Edinburgh, Scotland