Vilas S. Mujumdar, a giant of civil engineering who was on the cutting edge of the profession going back to his start in the 1960s, and was well known for promoting seismic resilience, has died. He was 81.
An ASCE Distinguished Member, Mujumdar, P.E., F.SEI, Dist.M.ASCE, was extremely active in the Society, from serving on the Board of Direction as an at-large member from 2016 to 2017 to working as chief engineering editor of the Natural Hazards Review journal from 2009 to 2015. He was involved in many committees, including those on sustainability and resilience.
Mujumdar’s well-deserved reputation led to an ASCE award named for him just last October. The Vilas Mujumdar Resilience Award was established to recognize Society members whose achievements have advanced resilience, specifically the mitigation of potential adverse effects due to natural hazards, climate change, or other environmental hazards in interdependent civil infrastructure systems.
He served as a trustee of the ASCE Foundation, and along with his wife Ingrid established registration assistance funding for students interested in risk and resilience policy and its impact on communities who want to attend the ASCE Convention and the International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure.
He was highly regarded for his ability to combine public policy with civil engineering to model, assess, evaluate, and mitigate seismic risk. His 45-year career included 25 years in private industry at the executive management level as president, CEO, and partner. In the private industry and the public sector, he provided leadership for 30-plus years in design, project management, research, and regulatory work, to influence and advance the quality of civil/structural professional engineering practice to a unique interdisciplinary systems level.
Always a math wizard, Mujumdar completed high school in India at 14 and broke records with his math scores in college. As for why he chose civil engineering, “All my friends were doing civil engineering, so I did it too,” he once said.
Mujumdar’s early work was in designing prestressed concrete bridges using segmental construction, an innovative technology at that time. This led him to work with Donovan Lee & Partners, inventor of the stress-steel posttensioning system, and to involvement in the first industrialized housing project, HABITAT ’67, for the World’s Fair in Montreal, Canada. At the age of 28, he became general manager of a precast concrete manufacturing firm in Massachusetts. Many of his building projects won design awards and were profiled in Engineering News-Record. In 2012, he was inducted in the Pan American Academy of Engineering.
He also worked as chief of operations for California’s Division of the State Architect, one of the state’s highest career service appointments. He was recognized by the governor in 1999 for his contributions to seismic safety.
Mujumdar aimed to shape public policy on seismic hazard mitigation holistically, combining socioeconomic factors with civil engineering. He was director of the National Science Foundation’s Engineering & Infrastructure Research Centers and received the Director’s Award for his work. The Global Resilience Institute, of which he was a distinguished senior fellow, awarded him the 2019 World Federation of Engineering Organizations Medal of Engineering Excellence. In addition to ASCE, he served on the boards of many other professional societies.