Few commercial buildings comply with seismic restraints standard

The BNZ Centre on Harbour Quay suffered substantial damage during the Seddon quake in July 2013.
TRACY EARL

The BNZ Centre on Harbour Quay suffered substantial damage during the Seddon quake in July 2013.

The lack of office buildings which comply with earthquake restraints standards is a "shocking state of affairs", a Wellington engineer says.

The standard, which related to the design, construction and installation of seismic restraints, had been in place for 34 years, yet there were fewer than 34 buildings in New Zealand that complied with it, Reveal Seismic technical principal Terry Johnson said.

"We haven't even got one a year. It's a shocking state of affairs."

Damage to the ceiling of the BNZ Centre on Harbour Quay can be seen following the 7.8 magnitude Kaikoura earthquake in ...
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Damage to the ceiling of the BNZ Centre on Harbour Quay can be seen following the 7.8 magnitude Kaikoura earthquake in November last year.

Non-structural, seismic restraints hold air conditioning, fire-sprinkler, telecommunication, electricity systems, lighting and ceiling support systems in place. These can collapse and pose risks to life and property, an Insurance Council of New Zealand spokeswoman said.

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Johnson said the design and installation of proper restraints fell through the cracks between engineers, designers and trades.

An image from the MBIE report shows damage inside Statistics House.
SUPPLIED

An image from the MBIE report shows damage inside Statistics House.

"Project building information shows extraordinary levels of clashes with other services and show no allowance for the correct amount of space for compliant seismic restraints.

"In other words, in some buildings that we actually look at, there is not enough real estate for us to put seismic restraints in because somebody else has taken the space," he said.

"It's the old system of first up, best dressed … bugger everybody else."

Statistics House on Wellington's waterfront was one of the worst hit buildings during the November 2016 earthquake.
KEVIN STENT/STUFF

Statistics House on Wellington's waterfront was one of the worst hit buildings during the November 2016 earthquake.

There needed to be a more coordinated approach right from the start of the project, he said.

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On Wednesday, Scott Hawkins, of global reinsurance firm Munich Re, told a building industry conference in Wellington that a high level of non-compliance made it difficult for insurers to know what to rely upon.

"As an industry, we place a heavy reliance on codes and new building standards for our risk rating.

"The worrying thing is that maybe 34 buildings in New Zealand actually meet the code."

Hawkins warned commercial building owners that earthquake cover could be axed because of New Zealand's seismic risks. 

Johnson said the total cost of business interruption and relocations following the 2013 Seddon quake was about $13 million.

"But if $4m was spent on seismic restraints [pre-quake], possibly none of this would have happened.

"So the blow out was quite considerable."

Earthquake Commission reinsurance, research and education general manager Hugh Cowan said non-structural elements and fit-out accounted for up to 70 per cent of a building's value.

"They contribute significantly to the cost of repair when they do fail … and determines whether or not the building can continue to operate and function.

"It can be the difference between carrying on or moving out."

In Wellington, there are still a number of buildings which remain empty as engineers and insurance companies continue to assess the damage.

These include Statistics House and BNZ Centre on Harbour Quay, both of which have been closed since November.

 - Stuff

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