Rebuilding triumphs over chaos

17:00, Apr 27 2012

The first large commercial building built in Christchurch since the February quake is, fittingly, the new home of an engineering consultancy.

The Kirk Roberts Consulting Engineers building at the corner of Barbadoes and Lichfield streets was officially opened by Prime Minister John Key yesterday.

The Christchurch engineering firm moved into the second storey last weekend after spending 14 months in makeshift offices in Blenheim Rd. The ground floor was being readied for long-term tenants.

Work had started soon after the September quake to renovate and strengthen an existing warehouse to become the offices of Kirk Roberts.

Halfway through the project, the February quake badly damaged the foundations and it was cheaper to knock the warehouse down and start again, director Jade Kirk said.

"Trying to build something in the chaotic last 14 months is a lot more work than normal," Kirk said.


Despite that, the new building recycled much of the old structure, including the original Scottish steel beams and rimu wood for panelling.

Patience and time would be needed to see the city's rebuild done properly – his career would be over before it was done, Kirk said.

He believed the Christchurch construction industry had the ability to build anywhere and remediate land – it needed only the right techniques and approach for each situation.

It was important for engineers to work closely with Canterbury University to design better performing buildings, he said.

Kirk Roberts had spent a lot of time working with the university to make post-tension design systems more cost-effective and a viable option for developers.

Those systems allowed buildings to come through earthquakes structurally undamaged. It also directs seismic forces to components that could break in larger events, acting like fuses and dissipating the energy. That meant lower repair costs, especially as the components were relatively cheap to replace.

Kirk Roberts, which has been operating for five years, now has about double the staff it had when the September quake hit. It has a Tauranga branch as well that has been running for about four years.

Key said the rebuild would accelerate soon, especially when plans for the major buildings such as the convention centre were finalised.

The Government's earthquake bill was $13 billion and rising, but the robust health of the city was a ray of light, he said.

Economic activity had remained relatively strong and people were getting on with their lives.

"I'm personally upbeat about where Christchurch is going."