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UC confirms status as world-leading academic institution

UC confirms status as world-leading academic institution in earthquake design research

January 20, 2013

The University of Canterbury (UC) has confirmed its reputation as one of the world’s leading academic institution in earthquake engineering, structural design and strengthening research by securing parts of two of Christchurch’s most iconic buildings for stringent testing.

UC engineering professor Stefano Pampanin has managed to preserve for testing structural parts of Christchurch’s modern multi-storey buildings, the Grand Chancellor Hotel and the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) building, to see how they performed under the stress of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

He will be investigating how many additional strong aftershocks they would have been able to withstand and what repairing and strengthening techniques can be applied to similar buildings to preserve them from demolition while increasing their safety to meet the new building code standards.

The Grand Chancellor Hotel and the PwC buildings were deconstructed following discussion and agreement with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority last year.

Associate Professor Pampanin, who is president of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, said it was a very complex and challenging job demolishing both buildings while keeping large chunks intact in order to be subsequently tested in the UC structural laboratory.

``Credit must be given to the tremendous support from Fletcher Construction and Structex for the Grand Chancellor Hotel and Arrow International, Structex, Nikau and Daniel Smith for the PwC Building,’’ he said today.

``Thanks to this great collaboration from industry we were able to preserve a few beam-column joints from these major city buildings before they were brought down.

``They have been cut and craned down specifically, transported and stored for us, waiting for us to come up with the design of a specific testing apparatus to test them. These elements are full size, heavy and strong and our current laboratory facilities would not in fact reach that capacity.

``I believe this is one of only a few research projects of its kind anywhere in the world. While tests on existing buildings or bridges prior to demolition due to end-of-life of the structures have been carried out in several parts of the world, this is possibly one of the few occasions where the extraction of the tests will be carried out on portions of earthquake-damaged buildings.

``We will consider the residual stresses and strain-life in the material of these beam-to-column connections, how the shaking impacted on the overall building performance and we can then use this information to improve the repair, strengthening and then design of future buildings to stand up better in any future quakes.’’

Professor Pampanin is the leader of an overall research project, Significant Advances for Earthquake Resistance (SAFER), which is looking at multiple aspects of assessment, repair, strengthening of existing reinforced concrete buildings while continuously looking at new developments in the area of low-damage resistant technology.

``New earthquake-resistant building technology is being used more and more in Christchurch's rebuild to protect public safety and avoid the observed extent of damage which in most cases led to the demolition. We are living in a new era in earthquake engineering where the higher expectations of society are setting up higher targets.

``In the future, the new generation of buildings will be expected to withstand strong earthquakes, to protect the lives of occupants and buildings should be easily re-occupied with minimum repairs and cost almost immediately after any event.

``We, as an international earthquake engineering community, are already moving ahead in an exciting new direction targeting a so-called ultimate earthquake resistant building design.’’

He said UC is leading the world in the development and implementation of low-damage technology, which was why he decided to come to New Zealand from Italy and then California some years ago.

Professor Pampanin was invited as a keynote speaker to the World Conference on Earthquake Engineering in Lisbon last year with more than 3000 delegates from around the world participating.

``It was a great honour for me and for UC to be invited to give a keynote lecture at such an important global event and in front of such an international crowd of experts. I took it as a significant opportunity to raise the profile of the quality of New Zealand’s work in the engineering community and construction industry while highlighting the urgent need for a paradigm shift in the definition of what performance is actually acceptable by the wider community in a modern society.

``The tragedy of the earthquakes must be taken as an opportunity for New Zealand and the rest of the world to learn. We feel it is part of our duty to learn and develop as much as we can from these unfortunate experiences.

``Christchurch has a unique opportunity to ensure the rebuild becomes a world leading model of sustainable development and implementation of best practice following an earthquake.’’

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