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John Argyris

Biographical Information

Name: John Argyris
Full name: John Hadji Argyris
Born on 19 August 1913 in , Magnesia, Thessaly, Greece, Europe
Deceased on 2 April 2004 in , Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Europe

Short biography of John Argyris

Argyris stemmed from a Greek Orthodox family. His father was a direct descendant of a fighter in the battle for Greek independence, whereas his mother came from an old Byzantine family which had given birth to politicians, poets and scientists, e. g. Constantin Carathéodory (1873 –1950), who in 1924 had been appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Munich [Hughes et al., 2004, p. 3763]. Argyris attended a classical grammar school in Athens and subsequently studied civil engineering at the technical universities in Athens and Munich; he graduated with distinction from Munich TH in 1936. After a brief period as an assistant to Günter Worch (1895 –1981), who had been appointed to the chair of theory of structures and structural steelwork one year before, he decided on a practical career as a designer, structural engineer and then as chief project engineer at J. Gollnow & Sohn, the renowned steel fabricators based in Szczecin (Poland). Argyris' work there involved the calculation of guyed masts, which were appearing in great numbers for radio antennas during the 1930s. For instance, his first paper, published in the journal Der Stahlbau, is a precise analysis of a three-guy mast for a wind loading case that had not been considered hitherto [Argyris, 1940]. It was customary to apply the wind load in the plane in which the guy ropes support the mast. However, Argyris proved that the wind load perpendicular to this plane should also be investigated. He developed a method whereby this loading case could be considered and using the approach of the classical structural theory of Müller-Breslau and others modelled the mast as an elastically bedded beam. It is no coincidence that Christian Petersen, a student of Worch, would be left to deal with this theme exhaustively [Petersen, 1970]. But the highly talented Argyris could not resist the attraction of aircraft construction, a field that in the 1930s was more important than structural steelwork in terms of theory development in structural mechanics and as such was firmly embedded in the rearmament programme of the Third Reich. It was this field that Argyris had been studying at Berlin TH since 1939. Following the invasion of Greece by the German armed forces in early 1941, Argyris was arrested and accused of betraying research findings to the Allies. The head of the intelligence service of the German armed forces Wilhelm Franz Canaris (1887 –1945), who was a member of the conservative resistance against Hitler, arranged Argyris' escape: under the pretence that Argyris was to be executed outside the concentration camp, the guards let them pass by. Shortly afterwards, Argyris, holding his passport between his teeth, managed to swim across the Rhine during a night-time air raid [Hughes et al., 2004, p. 3764]. He resumed his studies in 1942 at the Zurich ETH Institute for Aerodynamics under Jakob Ackeret (1898 –1981) and gained a further academic qualification. In 1943 he settled down in the UK, where until 1949 he was employed in the Research Department of the Royal Aeronautical Society. “Looking back,” Erwin Stein says of the work of Argyris, “these were probably his most fruitful scientific years, if one places the fundamental ideas in the foreground” [Stein, 1985, p. 9]. As early as August 1943, Argyris had developed triangular elements for the structural mechanics analyses of sweptback wings. In doing so, he was able to make use of the shear field theory devised by Ebner and Köller [Ebner & Köller, 1937/2; 1939], which anticipated the notion of discretisation (see section In his three secret memorandums, which he presented to the Research Council in 1943, 1947 and 1949, he also laid down in writing his bold idea of the triangular TRIM plate elements; but these works were regarded as “nonsense” by the Council and not approved for publication [Stein, 1985, p. 10]. The year 1949 saw Argyris appointed to the post of senior lecturer at Imperial College, London, and one year later reader in theory of aeronautical structures, and by 1955 he had become professor and director of the subdepartment for aeronautical studies. During this period, Argyris published his brilliant matrix algebra reformulation of structural mechanics (see section 10.4.3), a watershed in non-classical engineering sciences which can be regarded as the first stage in the scientific revolution in structural mechanics as Thomas S. Kuhn saw it. He remained at Imperial College until 1975. Argyris became professor and director of the newly created Institute for Statics & Dynamics of Aerospace Structures at Stuttgart TH in 1959, a post he held until 1984; from then until 1994 he was in charge of the Institute of Computer Applications. It was within this organisational framework that Argyris pushed forward the development of FEM with every resource at his disposal, including the founding of the journal Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering in 1970 and the monographs that Argyris wrote in conjunction with Hans Peter Mlejnek [Argyris & Mlejnek, 1986 – 88; 1991; 1997] to mention just two factors. Instead of concluding this brief biography with a list of the honours Argyris received, a quote from the obituary by Thomas J. R. Hughes, J. Tinsely Oden and Manolis Papadrakakis seems more pertinent: "His geometrical spirit, the elegance of his writings, his deep appreciation and understanding of classical ideas, his creativity and his epochal vision of the future initiated and defined the modern era of Engineering Analysis and set us all on life's path of discovery” [Hughes et al., 2004, p. 3766].

Main contributions to structural analysis

  • Untersuchung eines besonderen Belastungsfalles bei dreiseitig abgespannten Funkmasten [1940];
  • Structural Analysis [1952];
  • Energy Theorems and Structural Analysis [1954/1955/1960];
  • Die Matrizentheorie der Statik [1957];
  • Modern Fuselage Analysis and the Elastic Aircraft [1963];
  • Recent Advances on Matrix Methods in Structural Analysis [1964];
  • The Computer shapes the theory [1965];
  • Die Methode der Finiten Elemente [1986 – 88];
  • Dynamics of Structures [1991];
  • Computerdynamik der Tragwerke [1997]

Source: Kurrer, Karl-Eugen The History of the Theory of Structures, Wilhelm Ernst & Sohn Verlag für Architektur und technische Wissenschaften GmbH, Berlin (Deutschland), ISBN 3-433-01838-3, 2008; p. 712-713


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