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Cosgrove 75th Anniversary of the 1931 EArthquake

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Embargoed 5.30pm Thursday 2 February 2006

Hon Clayton Cosgrove address to mark the 75th Anniversary of the 1931 Napier 75th Anniversary of the 1931 and the subsequent founding of Standards New Zealand

Venue and time: 5pm-7pm, Grand Hall, Parliament Buildings, Wellington

Good evening, first I would like to acknowledge the presence here this evening of my colleague, the Minister of Commerce, the Hon Lianne Dalziel, Richard Westlake, chairman of the Standards Council, Rob Steele, the chief executive of Standards New Zealand, and invited guests.

The devastation caused by the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake triggered a significant change in respect of New Zealand buildings. New standards for buildings were developed and in 1932, Standards New Zealand was established.

And since then it has provided robust and practical guidance to the construction industry.

As in many areas, the knowledge behind and technology of building has powered ahead in the last 75 years.

Look at what we now know about steel, about timber, about concrete methods. We’ve learned a great deal about fundamental design principles and we continue to learn.

Also, all of these things - new technology, building systems and products, building standards and design - are increasingly international.

While working towards better buildings at home, New Zealand can benefit and learn from the increased efficiencies and opportunities of the global market.

Indeed, this very building is an excellent example of modern day design and construction achieved through application of the Building Code.

Being masonry buildings, built before the 1931 earthquake, Parliament House and the Parliamentary Library were considered by structural engineers to be at risk of collapse in a major earthquake.

During their refurbishment from 1992 to 1995, the buildings were separated from their original foundations and placed on more than 400 lead rubber bearings. In an earthquake, this base isolation would reduce the transfer of earthquake forces from the foundations to the building above.

The idea of placing thousands of tons of rock on top of 400 lead rubber bearings would likely not have occurred to Joseph Campbell, the original architect, but it is precisely this kind of innovation and advance that we must allow for in regulation. It is worth noting that this was a Kiwi invention, designed by Wellington scientist Dr Bill Robinson, which is now used globally.

The materials and technologies used in construction are evolving quickly, and with it we have an ever-growing appreciation of just how complex buildings have become.

Seventy-five years on from the Hawke’s Bay disaster, the lessons of history are driving a new Building Code. Once again, we are looking to the future, forming expectations that combine New Zealand’s social, environmental and economic needs.

The Building Code Review project being undertaken by the Department of Building and Housing will set new performance standards for the buildings in which we live, work, and play.

This is part of a wider building regulatory reform agenda that has occurred as a result of a systemic failure, which manifested itself as leaky buildings.

As my colleague Lianne Dalziel so passionately championed when introducing the Building Act to the House in 2003, we must ensure that buildings are built right the first time and that consumers are protected.

It’s a big ask all round. Historically, building codes have progressed from being a response to physical hazards – such as fire and earthquakes – to consideration of social and environmental outcomes.

This review needs to look at the needs of an aging population, and one that is living closer together and in higher densities than before.

Therefore the review must both respond to demands and show leadership in dealing with resource efficiencies: using only the amount of energy we need, the amount of water we need, the amount of materials we need, and minimising waste.

Such expectations and requirements will require technologically advanced solutions, some of which we can’t yet develop or imagine. The new Code must foster innovation, while providing robust assurance about outcomes.

We are looking to move beyond individual aspects, beyond technical requirements, to consideration of the building as a system - a system that depends on the interaction of materials, construction methods, water, land, energy and people.

Existing home heating requirements, for instance, focus on the energy efficiency of individual parts – walls, floors, ceilings, or the roof. But the real aim is clearly to make a house – a system – that does an efficient job of keeping the people inside it warm, healthy and dry.

A ‘holistic’ approach to energy efficiency would make the result the important thing rather than the steps towards it.

The new Code will fit within the Government’s National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, which sets targets to achieve best practice energy performance in new residential and commercial buildings.

Exactly like the wider environment, the way we deal with buildings must embody respect for both the system and the people within it. We have to think about results: what kind of place do we want to live and work in?

By expanding our view, the intention is to create sustainable, efficient buildings for New Zealanders. At the same time, we hope to foster innovation through a performance-based Code while making the expectations even clearer.

And, of course, it all has to be affordable. We’re not asking much!

Buildings, like societies, are complex systems. And like societies, we may always be searching for the ideal ‘right’ building. Our needs will continue to change, along with the materials at hand and our knowledge of how to use them.

But think where we have come from. And imagine how much more we will know in another 75 years.

I congratulate you on your anniversary.


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