'Chopping down' a legacy

Much of engineer's life work in ruins

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 08:35 21/12/2012

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A structural engineer believed to have designed the most buildings in central Christchurch has returned to the city where much of his life's work is in ruins.

Russell Poole recently returned to Christchurch, where he made his mark in the 1970s and 80s as lead engineer on more than 40 buildings during one of the city's prolific commercial building phases.

He found more than three-quarters of his life's work has been demolished or earmarked for demolition since the February 2011 earthquake which damaged most central-city buildings.

The Westpac and Spicers buildings, the Triangle Centre, the Central Library and a joint effort on the Christchurch Town Hall were among his projects before moving to Hong Kong in the 1990s.

He retired to Nelson after 11 years in Asia, but in 2010 moved to Wellington and rejoined the work force, and now works in Christchurch as a consultant.

The 14-storey Westpac building in Cashel St, built in 1983 and demolished last month, was his "pride and joy".

"It's profoundly distressing, but you can't afford to dwell and get morbid about it," he said.

Watching the MFL building in Colombo St come down about six months ago was another reminder of the destruction of his legacy.

"The whole innards of the building were exposed," he said.

"It was just one of those moments where you think about all the hours and effort the people put into making that.

"Then you see this bloody great machine destroying it. It's like chopping down a favourite tree."

The profession had been in a "state of exhaustion" since September 2010, which led to "overly conservative" decisions on building safety, Poole said.

"As a result of that, I believe that some of the buildings that have been demolished could have been saved. It's unfortunate because the opportunity for a lot of creative engineering disappeared."

He believed Christchurch buildings, apart from disastrous collapses at the Pyne Gould Corporation and Canterbury Television sites, had performed well in the quakes.

"Our design philosophy was we must design buildings that would stand up.

"We anticipated they would be damaged, and in a very major earthquake such as we've had, severely damaged, but they wouldn't fall down and they would protect life," he said.

"Apart from two buildings, that has been the case."

The need for damage-minimising technology in new buildings was a "no-brainer", Poole said.

BUILDINGS INCLUDE

Christchurch Town Hall (joint) in Kilmore St.

ECan building in Kilmore St.

Central Library in Gloucester St.

MFL building in Colombo St.

Camelot Hotel, Cathedral Square.

Westpac building in Cashel St.

Trade Union Centre in Madras St.

Scales House in Montreal St.

Spicer House in Victoria St.

Triangle Centre in Cashel St.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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