Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Quake-proof building design tested

Professor Stefano Pampanin at today's earthquake simulation test in Christchurch. Photo / Kurt Bayer
Professor Stefano Pampanin at today's earthquake simulation test in Christchurch. Photo / Kurt Bayer

New Zealand researchers have simulated some of the world's shakiest earthquakes in a ground-breaking quest to design fully quake-proof buildings.

A structural engineering team at University of Canterbury invited reporters to a dusty laboratory today to show off a design they say has already withstood more than 100 major tremors.

They have erected a two-storey concrete building prototype, with columns held together with simple steel hinges and bolts.

Watch: Uni students' quake-resistance test


The system, which can "plug" in at key structural points, absorbs the shaking created on a earthquake simulator which tosses the building up and down, and side to side.

So far, they have subjected it to the same shaking - and bigger - than the magnitude-7.1 shake of September 4, 2010 that sparked the devastating Canterbury earthquake sequence, the deadly February 22, 2011 jolt, as well as major quakes from history, including the Kobe earthquake of 1995 and the Californian quakes.

"This is not an earthquake-proof building, but it is close to it," said Professor Stefano Pampanin, from the university's department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering.

He has been overseeing the simulated shakes as New Zealand leads a global charge towards finding the best new design and technology for a post-quake era.

The steel bolts, or diffusers, are easily checked for damage after a quake and are easily replaced.

It's hoped that, in the future, any homeowner could change a damaged bolt as easy as changing a fuse, Prof Pampanin said.

The team have also secured parts of two multi-storey Christchurch buildings that were badly quake-damaged and have since been demolished - the Hotel Grand Chancellor and the PricewaterhouseCoopers building.

They're testing the recovered pieces to see how they performed in the earthquakes, how many aftershocks they would be able to sustain and what repairing techniques could be implemented.

The new earthquake-resistant building technology designed by the university's engineers is already being employed in the city's $40 billion rebuild.

"It's not science fiction anymore," Prof Pampanin said.

"This new generation of buildings will be expected to withstand a series of 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."

Prof Pampanin said Christchurch had a unique opportunity to become a world-leading model of sustainable development and implementation of best practice following an earthquake.

"The target is very ambitious: We want to develop a fully earthquake-proof building," he said.

"We're not there yet and it might take few more decades, but we're steadily moving towards this goal."

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