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In Memory

Ulrich Luscher

Ulrich Luscher of Orinda, California passed away while hiking near Palm Springs on March 9, 2014, at age 81.

Ulrich was born in Oftringen, Switzerland on July 18, 1932 to Ernst and Hanna (Haller) Luscher. In 1956 he graduated from ETH Zurich, one of the world's premier technical universities. He came to the United States in 1957 to study at MIT, where he received his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering in 1963.

During his four-decade career with Woodward-Clyde Consultants and URS, he contributed to key advances in geotechnical engineering, including work on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the 1970s. At the time of his death he was Board President of the Serene Lakes County Water District.

In 1962 Ulrich married Lenore McGee, with whom he had two sons. He lived in Boston, Houston, and Oakland before settling in Orinda in 1981. Ulrich married Joanne (Lowry) Thompson in 1983 and together they shared a happy 30 years of marriage.

Ulrich was constantly in motion, pursuing skiing, tennis, hiking, and mountain climbing. He traveled extensively with Joanne and enjoyed spending time at his Serene Lakes cabin.

Ulrich was preceded in death by his wife Joanne Luscher. He is survived by family on two continents: his brother (and sister-in-law) Werner (Christine) Luscher and sister Maria Luscher; sons Mark Luscher and Dan Luscher and daughter-in-law LindaKay Brown; four stepchildren (and their spouses) Greg (Kathy) Thompson, David (Colleen) Thompson, Jaimie Eberle, and Valerie (Lars) Pedersen; and thirteen grandchildren.

A celebration of Ulrich's life will be held on Thursday, April 3rd, at 2:00pm at the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church.

Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Mar. 22 to Mar. 24, 2014

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03/12/15 07:27 AM #1    

Larry Motschenbacher

Ulrich Luscher wrote many technical papers (such as Study of the Factors Affecting the Safety of Arctic PipelinesThaw  Consolidation of Alaskan Silts and Granular Soils) and was a well known Far West Nordic Ski Racer

03/13/15 11:04 AM #2    

Elden Johnson

Larry --- Thank you for adding Ulrich to the list of pipeline people.  His contribution to the pipeline is an important part of "the greatest story ever told; of man's interaction with permafrost", and deserves being memorialized.

In early 1973, as a young geotechnical engineer, just out of graduate school, I thought I was pretty hot stuff.  I joined Woodward Clyde Consultants and was assigned to the Alyeska Pipeline Project in Houston Tx.  Ulrich hired me and was my first boss.  Woodward Clyde specialized in Geotechnical Engineering, and was contracted by Alyeska to design the foundations for TAPS.

The unique engineering challenge of course, was the existence of permafrost along 75% of the route transecting, nearly the entire state of Alaska. While foundation engineering was a well-established discipline at the time, the study of frozen ground affects on pipeline performance was only emerging. Much new technology had to be developed, validated and then applied on a mile-by-mile basis. The challenge of getting it right, along every single linear foot of the 800-mile route was unprecedented. 

Ulrich was a very smart man.  Those of lessor intelligence, like myself, could readily sense that.  He was highly trained at some of the best universities in the world, receiving his PHD in Civil Engineering from MIT.  He was a tremendously talented engineer in the academic tradition of Karl Terzhagi, founder of the study of Soil Mechanics.

Ulrich was part of an inner circle of geotechnical engineers and consultants, taking a leadership role in the design of TAPS.  These included the likes of Hal Peyton, Jim Maple, Jim McPhail, Mike Metz, and Bob Neukirchner.  This group and others including, Jim Rooney, Dennis Nottingham, and Tom Krezewinski to name a few, also contributed greatly.

Ulrich was manager of the Woodward Clyde team, of which I was a member.  Under his leadership, our role, among other things, was to determine the soil strength relationship used in the design of the nearly 120,000 VSM used to support TAPS.  This task was unprecedented in Geotechnical engineering due to the time and temperature related aspects of frozen soil strength.

Ulrich was a father figure and mentor to many young engineers such as myself.  In the big picture that may have been more important to the success of TAPS, than even his engineering talent.  I remember being called to his office to review my first assignment.  There were a few red marks early on, which surprised me a little as I took such pride in my writing skills.  But the last page was marked with a big red X across the entire page and noted with the word “HOPELESS”.  While I already thought I was hot stuff – this set the bar much higher, and the stage bigger for my own 40 year contribution to TAPS.

I look back fondly with great respect for my dear friend, teacher and mentor --- Ulrich Luscher.

03/15/15 04:23 PM #3    

Dave Norton

Great story and rememberance Elden. He was one of the giants that built TAPS. (and I cannot disagree with such a man that that your writing skills are hopeless!).

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