Engineers reveal 'new era' in quake-protection design

Construction engineers from New Zealand and overseas will gather in Christchurch over the next two days to share their designs and research for "a new era" of seismic protection.

The Steel Innovations 2013 conference will be held in the new Air Force Museum extension - itself made with extensive use of steel.

Two University of Canterbury structural engineers, associate professors Stefano Pampanin and Greg MacRae, will present their work at the event, along with scores of other experts.

MacRae, who is New Zealand's representative to the International Association of Earthquake Engineering, has been working on low-damage steel construction designs that go beyond protecting lives and try to protect the building from being crippled as well.

His research has influenced building code and construction technique changes in the United States and Japan, as well as New Zealand.

Low-damage structures are made to avoid serious and expensive damage so they can be quickly reinhabited after earthquakes, and to reduce possible repair costs.

The current Kiwi building code is focused on allowing buildings to absorb damage and remain standing to protect the people inside.

The result was many Christchurch buildings - particularly those made of concrete - that kept their occupants safe in the quakes had to be torn down because they were uneconomical to fix.

"Many of these [low-damage] construction methods have been implemented in buildings around New Zealand," MacRae said.

"Costs are comparatively low and the benefit is large, so how can we not adopt it?"

Pampanin has co-authored a research paper on the technology used in the building of the private medical centre in Kilmore St.

The project had many seismic protections, many of them developed by the university, which had combined to make it something of a global first, Pampanin said.

"We are living in a new era of earthquake engineering and implementing what will be the next generation of seismic-resistant buildings," he said.

"The hi-tech design and flexibility of these low-damage solutions, which we have managed to develop over the years, has provided a legacy for UC engineering.

"Low-damage, post-tensioned rocking and dissipating systems will be ideal for the rebuild, regardless of the material adopted - be that concrete, steel or timber."

He was pleased with several examples in the central business district of seismic technology being used in steel, wood and concrete buildings.

"It is great to see a strong endorsement, growing interest and commitment from architects, engineers and clients."

Steel Construction New Zealand manager Alistair Fussell said more than 50 presentations would be made about everything from seismic systems, to sustainability and fire-safety engineering.

The two-day conference will be held at the Air Force Museum in Wigram, just a few days after the venue's $14 million extension, complete with steel roof trusses, was finished.