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Lessons likely from Wellington buildings

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 18/11/2016

Huge lessons will be learned about buildings after this week's earthquake in New Zealand, according to an engineer.

Professional engineers will evaluate what went wrong and design codes will be reassessed and redefined, says Professor John Tookey, head of the Department Built Environment Engineering at Auckland University of Technology.

The structural failure of modern buildings, including one on Wellington's waterfront occupied by Statistics NZ, has horrified many after the magnitude 7.8 quake on Monday.

On Friday engineers were still identifying new problems in buildings in Wellington.

Housing NZ sent staff home from a building in Boulcott Street on Friday afternoon and Wellington Girls' College, a large state secondary school in inner Wellington, sent junior pupils home and told them not to come to school on Monday. Problems with stairs in a tower block of classrooms at the school means students can't be evacuated safely if needed.

"Not unreasonably the general public and engineers want answers and want them quickly. When the dust settles in Wellington and surrounds, investigations will be thorough and exhaustive," Prof Tookey says.

The answers will come down to either design failure, materials failure, construction process failure or flawed engineering, he says.

"In truth, engineering assumptions are our Achilles' heel as engineers. Lines have to be drawn somewhere."

The designers of the Titanic assumed flooding of four compartments was worst case - the iceberg breached five.

"Ahead of the findings of any future inquiries on this catastrophic event, huge lessons will be learned," he says.

"The damage is still fresh and the wounds are still raw. Perversely the outcomes of these events in the future is a better, safer, more sustainable built environment."

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