Christchurch Quake II-Faulty Towers?

March 15, 2011

“So many lives have been lost as a result of the February 22 earthquake that we must find answers, particularly about why such a significant loss of life occurred in two buildings…” PM John Key*

A tourist snapshot from the Port Hills, now half a metre higher since Canterbury Quake II on 22 February, caught the city in stunning strong seismic motion. From the opposite perspective a worker near the top of the Forsyth Barr building in the central city saw the shockwaves approach and the dominoes falling.

This building, originally the Robt. Jones Building, was an inappropriately tall building for its context-a Ronson lighter stuck up alongside some sawn off stubs. It was built soon after the failed controversial attempt to build an even higher and even more inappropriate tower diagonally opposite in Victoria Square. There will be questions about the way much of its concrete interior staircasing collapsed, with one enterprising staff team abseiling 5 floors to the car park with mountaineering gear stached after the 2001 attacks on New York.

Other tall and quite modern buildings-not Brownlee old dungers-did not perform well. The majority of casualties was in the PGG and CTV Buildings, neither heritage nor stone buildings. The Grand Chancellor hotel, originally designed as an office block, has adopted a Pisa-like lean and there are structural question marks over a lot of other CBD buildings, historic and not.

The recently announced inquiry will examine issues around the built environment in the Christchurch CBD including, but not limited to, the CTV and PGC buildings.

It will also look at the “adequacy of the relevant building codes and standards into the future”. As former Christchurch City Council engineer the late Bryan Bluck said in a graphic 1996 TV documentary*, this is the key to a safer future. Ever since the 1931 Napier earthquake attempts to update the codes and take account of new building technology were too little and too late.

In  a typical Kiwi  belts and braces approach,  which keeps down the rate of judicial unemployment, The Royal Commission will also take into account, but not be limited by, a technical investigation already underway by the Department of Building and Housing into the performance of the Canterbury Television, PGC, Forsyth Barr and Hotel Grand Chancellor buildings.

By way of contrast the earthquake strengthened Canterbury museum, a classic heritage building, came through both big quakes in fine style.

Christchurch is located in a medium risk of earthquakes area while Wellington is shoehorned into a high risk area. Wellington city mothers are suddenly upping the planning for a worst case quake. If Christchurch didn’t get things moving, Friday’s Japanese earthquake certainly has.  The apocalyptic photos and video clips coming out of Japan’s  triple header disaster have caught everyone’s full attention.

There is nothing like witnessing the toss of the cosmic seismic dice elsewhere to concentrate the civic mind.

#Feel free to add a comment below and share this post.

*Blinks   Vid  Earthquake!  Christchurch 1996 leastearthquake/4725585/Earthquake-fault-known-of-since-September 

#Lyall Lukey 15 Mar 2011  My other less serious blog

SeismiCity: Graphic Quake Warning Ignored

March 12, 2011

‘Christchurch’s “fatal flaw” was the land that it sat on – “a soft, shaky sponge of riverstones and silt half a kilometre deep.,”In any decent quake, the Garden City will shake like a leaf,” ‘ 1996 documentary  Earthquake!*

Grant Dixon, the director of the 15-year-old documentary Earthquake!, warning of the effects of a major earthquake on Christchurch’s eastern suburbs and heritage buildings, says lives could have been saved if officials had heeded the film’s warnings*.

A recently edited eight-minute clip of the 1996 documentary* has received more than 78,000 YouTube views since 5 March.

The Jurassic jelly the city sits on magnifies the graphically portrayed resonance frequency amplification effect which causes destruction. “In any decent quake, the Garden City will shake like a leaf…”   

Former Christchurch City Council engineer, the late Bryan Bluck, was  presciently outspoken when interviewed for the doco. In his role as council building control manager he said that “hundreds of old buildings” in the city had not been strengthened and were likely to collapse in an earthquake. “Well, really, your heritage list, to be quite cruel, defines most of your earthquake-prone buildings…”

As it turned out, the seismic net was cast a lot wider. There are or will be a lot more prone buildings than those on the heritage list.

The documentary said that liquefaction would cause sewers and drains to burst apart, roads to break up and buildings to sink or tip over.

Former Christchurch City Council sewers unit manager Alan Watson warned of what he could have called a Sewers Crisis:  Christchurch had a high risk of liquefaction, especially in the eastern suburbs.

For many of us “liquefaction” is a post September 4 2010 term. Many people-especially the shovelling Student Army- now have had a hands-on experience of the resultant silt twice in six months.

Earthquake! rated well on TV but went down like a lead demolition ball at City Hall, despite the courageous stance of Brian Bluck and others. As its director says, it was greeted with “a deafening silence” from officials.

The echo chamber of history will have much more to divulge.

#Feel free to add a comment below and share this post.

*Blinks   Vid  Earthquake!  Christchurch 1996 Why buildings collapse 

#Lyall Lukey 12 Mar  2011  My other less serious blog

Christchurch Quake II-Crisis and Opportunity

March 2, 2011

“The level of the damage to the economy in Kobe was such that it became a national project. With Christchurch the second largest city in New Zealand it may have to be a national project to protect the future of that urban area”. David W. Edgington  Reconstructing Kobe: The Geography of Crisis and Opportunity. 

Eight days on the centre of Christchurch still looks like a war zone after last week’s 6.3 quake-not an aftershock on the previous faultline, definitely a gnarly new event, albeit with a subterranean connection.*

The death toll rose to 159 this morning, with another 80 people still missing. Despite the fierce hope the only signs of life found in the rubble in the  last week have been a bedraggled cat and a stsrving pigeon. 

Today, to add to the misery, the Canterbury Nor’Wester that’s been blowing strong for the last 12 hours or so has whipped up a Middle Eastern duststorm from the estimated 150,000 tons of now dried silt that has been spread everywhere. Some of the silt was also mixed with raw sewage forced to the surface by liquefaction. The shit is really hitting the fan and masks are needed.

Yesterday at 12.51 pm the city and the nation stopped for two minutes silence*. For the first time in a week it was quiet in the ruined buildings where an apparently now fruitless search and rescue, but grisly recovery operation still continues, with Kiwi  crews helped by those from China, Taiwan, Japan, Australia and the United States.  Like the victims, the rescuers are a united nations.

The sun shone, birds sang obliviously but not a word was spoken.

The night before, en route to the Salvation Army food depot to pick up supplies to do a Rotary food and water run to the stricken eastern suburbs, we saw a young woman standing alone in a small park in the middle of a devastated area playing a keyboard and singing to an invisible audience as her expression of the human spirit in the face of a crisis. She obviously had portable electricity; thousands of others still haven’t.

In 7 days more than $14 million had been poured into relief funds for Christchurch by yesterday. See below if you’d like to help.**

Danger and Opportunity-Kobe Lessons
I recall that the Chinese word for crisis was depicted in two ideograms : wei–man confronting tiger or danger and ji (or chi)- the energy of the universe or opportunity.

David W. Edgington is Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia and author of Reconstructing Kobe: The Geography of Crisis and Opportunity says there were lessons from the 1995 Kobe earthquake that can inform disaster recovery and reconstruction efforts  in Christchurch.*“The puzzle with reconstruction after such a terrible disaster, whether its Kobe, Haiti or Queensland after the floods and cyclone, is that decisions are squeezed into such a short period of time. People want to know where they can build. With the best will in the world, not all of the decisions made will be palatable, but the planning should start immediately. They have to inject certainty into the situation as soon as possible.

Unfortunately in Christchurch lightning does strike twice… [in] my own city Vancouver…[we] have a building stock very like Christchurch because we are an old colonial English city – brick and masonry buildings from around the turn of the century. They’ll never make code no matter how you try to strengthen them”.

The neo-Gothic slow burning horror story is that Christchurch was built on a “useless” complex of wetlands. The two main rivers, the Avon and the Heathcote, acted like seismic arteries during Earthquakes I &II. Perhaps our revered founders did not lay such a good foundation after all for the stone buildings floating on a swampish miasma.

In the words of Tipene O’Regan in 2000  “I find it difficult to restrain a small chuckle at the thought of some proxy for the Christchurch City Council being confronted with a contemporary resource consent application to develop a modern city on the nation’s most extensive and complex wetland system.”*

Now the endangered species is us.

Getting through the cordon
I’ve worked in the city centre for 33 years. After the September quake I was back in the office next day, although in the cordoned off area. This time it’s going to be months and I don’t see us returning to work there. Luckily, with mobile technology and cloud computing it’s easier to work from anywhere, but the learning and development hub and a club I was building up won’t have a physical inner city venue any more. I’ll have to make a virtue of the virtual.

Even though we took out my laptop and backups and other devices I do want to retrieve other gear and IP. This won’t be straightforward. As Brian Palliser said on February 28: “There must be plans to allow access to some buildings where the ‘risk’ is acceptable… to retrieve essential computers and files and it is reasonable safe to do so…. If that cannot be done, even in a limited way, then you can forget any comprehensive economic re-growth of the city. It would take maybe 1 to 2 hours at the outside to retrieve essential files and computers… If we cannot (and I accept that many may never be able to) then you cannot even begin to calculate the economic cost – and I am NOT talking about bricks and mortar). …To destroy a building before a reasonable effort can be made to recover such items is absolutely unacceptable UNLESS the building is utterly unsafe and or unstable…the longer we procrastinate the more impossible the business recovery becomes.”

Business Recovery
 According to David W. Edgington, in terms of business recovery it took Kobe ten years to recover, though the economy has never fully recovered.
“The level of the damage to the economy in Kobe was such that it became a national project. With Christchurch the second largest city in New Zealand it may have to be a national project to protect the future of that urban area… “Kobe had the fourth biggest port in the world. Within two years, the shipping had gone elsewhere. The delay was inevitable in fixing the port, getting the gantries back together. Kobe’s traditional industries, ship building and steel making were declining. They never really recovered after the earthquake. It was up to the national government to work with the local leaders to build up new industries and revive tourism for the region. They focused on biotechnology.”

 The government in Japan plays a big role in choosing new industries. They thought Kobe might never recover without some outside help so money was given to try and generate new start-up biotech firms. There have been some successes, but some failures. It has been a mixed bag. There are a lot of new, gleaming buildings in Kobe, but it has been a very slow economy since 1995.

Decisive Leadership
Edgington stresses the need for decisive leadership: “The local city did all the heavy lifting but the financial aid came from the Government. Kobe assembled a shopping list. They asked for a new regional airport, the biotech cluster on reclaimed land, a new convention centre, an earthquake museum. The World Health Organisation put a large medical research centre there. There was an opportunity. The planners build on the crisis. They had a clean slate.”

 Lifting public morale-the RWC
 As Edgington recounts, within the first year the leaders came up with something to keep everyone’s spirits up. The Kobe earthquake happened in January, the coldest part of the year. People were displaced, living in temporary housing and barracks. They started a “light up the city” programme with these astounding illuminations, a bit like Blackpool in England. It brought in people outside who spent money. It was a highlight for the locals in the second winter when things still weren’t really functioning a year after the big event.

It could be at least seven months before tourists, staff and shoppers can return to the inner city of Christchurch but if AMI Stadium is safe, our morale booster will be staging our leg of the Rugby World Cup. About a third of the city’s hotel accommodation has been knocked out. In September people will be just about ready to open their homes again, not to earthquake refugees but to visiting rugby fans to take up the accommodation shortfall.

New Planners-New Pioneers
Last Tuesday’s quake did reveal two time capsules in the base of the fallen statue of John Robert Godley. The messages are still being deciphered. As we re-build and create a new cityscape, what will we put in our architectural time capsule for future generations?  Certainly no more neo-colonial forelock tugging facades or out of context high rise buildings.

 If small is beautiful, low is safe.

PS Police received a large number of calls from spooked residents after an earthquake jolted Wellington last night. The 4.5-magnitude earthquake struck at 10.07pm, according to GeoNet. It was 40 kilometres deep, and centred off the Kapiti Coast, 20km northwest of Wellington. A 4.6-magnitude aftershock also struck Christchurch 35 minutes later, centred 10km south of Christchurch and 10km west of Lyttelton at a depth of 5km. In terms of my first EQ II post last week* a narrow win to Christchurch.

#Feel free to add a comment below and share this post.

*Blinks  Satellite images of the city before and after the 2nd quake  Lessons from Rebuilding Kobe…   Vid  Contact the Science Media Centre on (04) 499 5476.   ** Rotary Earthquake Appeal-please help   Right hand column shows exact location of aftershocks
Southern Capital Christchurch  ed. John Cookson and Graeme Dunstall  My first EQ II post

#Lyall Lukey 2 March  2011  My other less serious blog