GZA’s Long History of Instrumentation | John Dunnicliff

At a Glance


John Dunnicliff is best known among engineers for “Geotechnical Instrumentation for Monitoring Field Performance,” a text so fundamental that it’s often simply called the Red Book. Slightly less well known is that he laid the roots for a thriving instrumentation practice in GZA.

After earning a bachelor's degree and master’s degree in engineering from Oxford, Dunnicliff moved to the US in 1968, securing master’s degrees in soil mechanics and foundation engineering from Harvard and graduate studies in rock mechanics from MIT. That brought him into contact with what was then a four-year-old geotechnical consulting firm, Goldberg, Zoino, and Associates (GZA).

Don Goldberg and Bill Zoino, both MIT alumni themselves, welcomed Dunnicliff as a partner in 1969, and over the next ten years, he built the Soil, Rock, and Instrumentation (SRI) practice which included a drilling division. After his tenure with GZA, Dunnicliff became an independent consultant of geotechnical instrumentation in 1979. 


During his time at GZA, Dunnicliff developed a comprehensive approach to monitoring and instrumentation that leveraged the observational method. As later explained in the Red Book, Dunnicliff started with the key objective: What the client needed to know, and what the client would do with the data after it was collected. From there, he developed a step-by-step approach to installation, data collection and analysis, and recommendation to follow. 

Since Dunnicliff’s departure, GZA has continued to provide instrumentation solutions to various industries spanning Construction, GeoStructural, Dams and Levees, Environmental, Mining and more, racking up an impressive more than 60-year history of continuous practice and growth. 

Today, the Digital Technology Services team carries on the legacy Dunnicliff granted GZA in its early years by delivering Monitoring, Instrumentation, and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to various life cycle stages of assets. While technology has advanced rapidly, Dunnicliff’s process and his legacy remain the core of every instrumentation project at GZA while his vision is shared by many around the globe.