John Adjeleian

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Ottawa Citizen October 21, 2004 Thursday Final Edition

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 engineering.

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 other's contributions."

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 manager.

"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 pushed."

Mr. Adjeleian was born of Armenian parents in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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, Elizabeth.

In his leisure time, he was an enthusiastic member of the Kiwanis Club, which recognized his 40 years of participation several months ago.

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 him."

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.

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Adjeleian was born in Worcester, Mass. as the youngest and only male of three children born to Harry Adjeleian - a tailor - and Marcouri - a teacher. He lost his father at an early age and started selling newspapers on the bicycle, to help his mother make ends meet. She was a devout lady and frequented the first Armenian Apostolic Church built in USA, by the Worcester Armenian community. She received awards and was recognized by the community as a good Sunday School teacher, while her boy enjoyed singing as an altar boy. This was probably the reason that John remembered “Our Father” in Armenian, to his last days.

After being drafted in World War II and completing his university studies at McGill - where he met and later married Elizabeth - he came to Ottawa. The two participated in founding the Armenian Cultural Association of Ottawa, proud that the first meetings were held in their home. His cultural affiliation with Armenians remained always alive, as proven by his vital contribution to the founding of the Armenian Cultural Association of Ottawa; his management of the Armenian Embassy’s renovation; his visit to Armenia; and his frequent reading of the Historic Atlas of Armenia, in his library in which he collected maps and books referencing Armenia. He spoke with great admiration for medieval Armenian architects, considering them “ingenious structural engineers, as well as architects”.


After graduating from the structural engineering course at McGill in 1952, he completed a post-graduate course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1954 and the following year he came to Ottawa. He established his structural design company and progressed rapidly to form a team of 15 engineers. His reputation grew in parallel with the completion of large projects in the Ottawa region, starting with Lansdown Park stadium, advancing to various buildings on Carleton University campus and the National Arts Centre. By 1982, his firm established a Toronto branch, to design and supervise the Toronto Skydome project. - now a symbol of the Ontario capital. Its revolving roof, opening and closing according to weather conditions, makes it a unique structure at world scale. His firm won four awards for that building and some 3,000 other structures all over Canada, bear the imprint of his engineering genius. His lifetime partner, Alan Rubelli thought that “Johny had a wonderful knack of developing the concept of a structure responding to the requirements of a given problem. His ability to conceptualize was second to none !” In recent years, while “in retirement” he developed Barrhaven and Pinecrest shopping centres !


Soon after his arrival in Ottawa, little wonder that the MIT graduate was appointed Carleton University Structural Engineering professor and from 1975 to 1990, served as the Rector of that Department. Even in the busiest years of his life however, he never gave up teaching - on the contrary, over the years, he expanded his teaching to four universities, earning the reputation of a brilliant and meticulous instructor, always demanding, yet endearing himself to his students with his humour. As a retired professor and former Rector, he received several honorary degrees, awards and titles from various professional institutions.


His tendency to look at the practical side of things in everyday life, earned him many friends, one of whom said “Johny was the kind of friend to call any time and ask for a solution to a practical problem”. Just imagine the number of roles he played - good husband; caring father; jocular grandfather; respected Armenian community member; devoted colleague; beloved professor; and above all, a modest person despite his success in all these roles. Some non-Armenian friends will gain an insight on his speedy lifestyle by learning that he was simply trying to be the man whose surname meant:- ”The man always in hurry ...!”


Several members of the Armenian community have had the chance to ask and benefit from his advice on matters well beyond engineering - real estate, leasing, land development, etc, etc. At least one entrepreneur had the good fortune to buy land in partnership with him and years later when his business prospered, pay off Adjeleian’s share to become independent. As a sign of gratitude, this budding entrepreneur now gives many donations to Armenian institutions, projects and charities.

For over a decade now, the Ottawa Armenian community has been holding occasional meetings to discuss the construction or leasing of a community center. At all these meetings - none of them decisive - the chairman has been Johny Adjeleian.


The ceremony took place on October 19, 2004, in St. Mark’s church on Normandy Rd., of which the long laminated timber arches were his design, many years ago. Now the church was filled with federal Government officials, City of Ottawa councillors, many engineers and architects and practically every member of the Armenian community. Present particularly and in a great number, were the Carleton University Structural Engineering professors and students who had attended “The Annual John Adjeleian lecture” on the very evening before his passing away... Now, the laboratory of that Department is called “The Johny Adjeleian Structures Laboratory”.

All the eulogies offered by Armenian or non-Armenian speakers, mentioned his humourous, friendly, enthusiastic and practical attitude to life - an example for all of us to emulate. He was buried in Beechwood Cemetery as the red, dry leaves of fall were covering the ground and all attending were sadly meditating at the end of a fruitful life.

Garbis Armen Ottawa


Mrs. E. Adjeleian, Miss Hasmig Adjeleian;

Alan Rubelli of “Adjeleian, Rubelli and Partners”;

Messrs. Garo Donoyan, Ara Ghazarian, Boghos Duzdjian, Vahe Balabanian and other friends.