Engineers worry over city 'babies'

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 05:00 10/03/2011

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Engineers are not supposed to be sensitive, but Opus structural engineers Will Parker and Andrew Brown admit getting emotional about their "babies".

Brown's baby is the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and Parker's is the former municipal chambers in Oxford Tce, now called Our City O-Tautahi.

Both buildings were damaged in the September 4 earthquake, but were devastated by last month's quake.

The engineers, who are part of a 100-strong Opus International team working on quake-related projects, say their work is professionally fascinating, but that the last quake has made it harder emotionally.

"No novelty and lot more consequences," Brown says.

Every time an aftershock hits, they think about their pet projects.

"This is the one I wake up and think about," says Parker of the Our City building. "The kids say, `What's wrong Dad?' and I'm thinking, `We haven't got the steel up yet'."

Brown takes the 106-year old basilica, which he calls one of the most important buildings of its type in Australasia, equally personally.

Both structural engineers are working on plans to make the buildings safe, and to save what they can until final decisions are made.

At Our City, an exquisite Queen Anne-style building designed by Samuel Hurst Seager and built in 1887, steelwork designed by Parker will shore up the south wall of the building and protect the statues called Industry and Concord, sculpted by Sir George Frampton.

The building's turret, which moved 300 millimetres in last month's quake, and its chimneys are also being removed.

The steelwork was made to support the basilica's towers and was quickly adapted for Our City after events overtook the plans.

The damage to the building would have been much worse if shoring-up work done after the September 4 quake had not been done, Parker says.

The south tower of the basilica collapsed in the latest quake and the north tower has been decapitated. The large dome on the east side of the building was twisted like a corkscrew and could collapse in a big aftershock.

Wrinkles can be seen under the roof's green cladding.

Brown says the plan is to lift the dome off in one piece and then take down the underpinning stonework piece by piece. He hopes to recover the bells in the wrecked north tower in the next few days.

Brown is also working on the Craigs Investment building (1982) in Armagh St.

The building appears to be structurally sound but it now has a lean towards the south of about 300mm.

The lean is accentuated by the neighbouring Victoria Square apartment building, which has a marked lean towards the north.

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- The Press

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