Falling Parapets!!

A recent earthquake in Wellington started a conversation in our Wellington office about the structural integrity of buildings as well […]

October 19th, 2016

Category: News

A recent earthquake in Wellington started a conversation in our Wellington office about the structural integrity of buildings as well as the integrity of the decorative parapets. We had a discussion with our (then) Forensic Engineer about Christchurch, as he had worked there at his previous firm. We spoke about his involvement with investigating the remaining buildings after the 2011 earthquake. Amongst the information he gave us, the one thing that stood out was how it wasn’t all about buildings collapsing that caused all the damage. Falling parapets and facades were another major factor that led to damage, injuries and deaths.

One of our staff members who is a lover of old photos (especially before and afters), remembered many buildings in Wellington had their decorative parapets on roofs and frontages taken down when being upgraded or refurbished. This seemed to be an ongoing trend with many buildings throughout New Zealand.  As seismic activity becomes an increasingly important issue for this country, we are learning to make necessary changes to our infrastructure.’

The picture above is of the Wellington town hall before and after. Due to seismic activity throughout the years, many changes to the building needed to be made in order to preserve it as well as making it safe for all in case of a major earthquake.

This very subject came into the spotlight in 2015 when Ann Brower lobbied for changes in The Building Act, to make it law that assessments and upgrades be undertaken by owners with buildings that have potentially dangerous parapets, facades and verandas. Ann Brower was on bus No. 702 in Christchurch in 2011 when unreinforced masonry parapets fell on her bus during the earthquake. Seven people died on that bus. Ann was the only survivor. The changes in the act are not only in response to this tragedy but also to the 35 people who lost their lives that day due to falling masonry parapets. The Act now states that any buildings with dangerous parapets, facades, and verandas will have to be assessed and upgraded twice as quickly as other properties.

When we began working on the Textile Centre in Auckland, one of the many tasks was scanning the parapets and facades to see if they were structurally sound. We scanned many areas with great success and were able to provide the client with the information they wanted in order for them to create a solid strengthening plan. We have also completed various scans near our Cuba St location for local building owners. Wellington’s Cuba St mostly contains structures that were built from the early 1900’s, so these buildings can be a greater risk in an event of a strong earthquake.

We have also investigated a building located on Queen St in Auckland that doesn’t differ from its original construction. The only major difference is the removal of the decorative parapets from the roof and its original “Premier Buildings 1907” concrete signage. The roof now has a solid border and a sleeker look. This doesn’t mean that all parapets on structures are dangerous. Many buildings in New Zealand, historic and modern, still contain their original design. It is best, however, for them to be checked to make sure they are still structurally sound.

The New Zealand Government has made some headway in shouldering some of the costs for building owners in regards to building upgrades. By offering grants and assistance, it has become a bit easier to start implementing earthquake strengthening. Of course, we are not 100% where we want to be but it is important to recognize progress.

Looking to find out more about non-destructive structural integrity testing?  Get in touch with CSI at www.csiscan.nz or phone 0800 33 7767. Winners of the 2016 Wellington Gold Awards in Emerging Services.


2 thoughts on “Falling Parapets!!”

  1. Finn O'Connor Couch Kumaras Ltd
    October 28, 2016 05:27

    Great article, very interesting reading. Keep it up team. Nice feature adding in comments by the way…….

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