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New approach to earthquake strengthening

Wellingtonians are well aware of the damage earthquakes can cause and the strengthening that has been necessary in many of their inner city buildings.

In protected historic buildings, such as Wellington’s Turnbull House, upgrading is normally hidden inside the structure. The aim is to preserve the period style of the building as much as possible.

But why hide earthquake strengthening? Buildings can be upgraded with architectural integrity and expression. Strengthening can be beautiful, modifying a historic building for the better.

So says Mark Taylor of Victoria University’s School of Architecture and Design.

Taylor and his colleagues Julieanna Preston and Andrew Charleson form a Research Design Team that has come up with some "intentionally provocative" proposals that turn the common approach to earthquake strengthening on its head.

Their ideas can be seen at a free exhibition entitled ‘Moments of Resistance’ which opens at Wellington’s Public Library on March 17.

Their drawings, sketches and models feature new and positive ideas for earthquake strengthening that aim to enrich the internal and external structure of Wellington’s buildings rather than preserve their original façades.

Keen to give something back to the city, the research team chose Wellington’s Turnbull House and a generic 1960’s office block as their guinea pigs for seismic refurbishment.

The office block, chosen for its generic modern style, has been ‘anchored’ to the ground with a web of steel pipes over three external walls. Inspired by the ‘she’ll be right’ brand of kiwi-ingenuity, the building is structurally ‘propped’ and secured with clamps with wire ties reminiscent of number eight fencing wire.

Turnbull House was selected for its historical significance, conservation value and distinctive brick bearing walls. The team have covered these walls with steel studs that secure the bricks but are also highly decorative. In the interior, new and intricate wall linings of steel and timber make the building structurally sound as well as beautiful.

"We’ve been careful to capture the character of the existing architecture but we’ve also made these buildings into new and different structures" says Taylor.

"We see no reason to keep what is a European architectural style historically pure—it was imposed on the New Zealand landscape. In our models the earthquake strengthening modifies the building so that it reflects its colonial heritage but is grounded in the New Zealand environment".

"We wanted to question current conventions of earthquake strengthening with a positive contribution that would open up discussion amongst architects, planners and engineers" says Taylor.

"And we hope that Wellington’s residents will come and have a look".

The exhibition runs from March 17 to 8 April 2000.

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