“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.
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkTy6ogLDX8 Vid Earthquake! Christchurch 1996