Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mike Butler: Govt earthquake paranoia



“Paranoia” and “chaos” are two words used by Napier’s mayor and a leading architect to describe the government’s earthquake-proofing initiatives after the earthquakes that devastated Christchurch. Napier mayor Barbara Arnott terms the government response as “paranoia”. “I think people have got to take a step back and think quite hard”, she said. (1)

The two-storey Williams Building containing six shop tenancies on Hastings St, Napier, that was built in 1910 and withstood the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake must be demolished after scoring six percent in terms of meeting currently acceptable building standards.

“We want people to be safe, but we do know that we can’t totally earthquake-proof any building against any earthquake – we just can’t go condemning them all on that sort of basis”, she said.

Napier architect and building owner Guy Natusch says earthquake site assessment and the costs associated with strengthening are chaotic. Percentage assessments of a building’s structural integrity were meaningless because the percentage is only based on an engineer’s guesstimate. He would prefer a grading system. (2)

The term “earthquake proneness” should be avoided, he said, because it gives the impression that a whole building is likely to collapse where in fact there may be just a part of the building that may have a structural weakness that may be remedied at small cost. Nevertheless, the entire building is classified earthquake prone until the work is completed.

He asks why buildings were being vacated when strengthening could be carried out while occupied. The forced vacancies meant no cashflow to go towards strengthening costs, or for insurance.

My article titled “Earthquake strengthening bad policy” quoted economist Ian Harrison, who said the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment expert’s own analysis shows the costs of the earthquake-strengthening proposals are 50 times the benefits. For proposals to be beneficial, the costs need to be less than the benefits.

One owner told me that his two-storey masonry building that had come through the 1931 earthquake unscathed, and which had undergone earthquake strengthening during the 1980s, was now classified by the Hastings District Council as potentially earthquake-prone in a desktop study, which means the bureaucrat who compiled the list did not view the buildings.

Having parents who lived through the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake made me aware that earthquakes are a reality so I have generally avoided owning certain types of buildings – mainly the inflexible types.

Nevertheless, we have two buildings that pre-date 1931 and are still going strong, in fact better than numerous newer buildings some of which have had to be demolished as a result of failures by building materials, builders, and councils, all within the past 20 years.

For those bemused by the chronic bureaucratic delays and insurance issues in Christchurch, consider the Napier experience.

The earthquake struck on February 3. A Government grant of £10,000 provided for 32 temporary business premises in Clive Square and 22 professional offices in Memorial Square, erected by the Fletcher Construction, and popularly referred to as Tin Town, which opened on March 16, 1931 – just six weeks later.

For the rebuild, four rival architectural practices co-operated. The buildings of Louis Hay reflected the designs of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Natusch & Sons’ buildings were simple, often using arched windows, and Finch & Westerholm produced many Spanish mission style buildings. Most popular was the art deco style of the time. E. A. Williams designed some of Napier’s most striking art deco buildings. (3)

In November 1932, Hastings celebrated its reconstruction, and in January 1933, almost two years after the earthquake, during the New Napier Carnival, Napier was declared officially ‘reborn’ – within two years of the earthquake.

Insurance companies in 1931 were reluctant to pay out. Claimants were referred to a clause in small print that said fire caused by an earthquake does not form part of their fire insurance. These clauses were introduced after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Even after factoring the differences in the scale of damage and available technology, it appears New Zealand was better organized 80 years ago.

Sources
1. Wreckers to smash building ’31 jolt couldn’t, HB Today, July 20, 2013
2. Assessment chaotic: Architect, HB Today, July 20, 2013
3. Rebuilding Napier http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/historic-earthquakes/page-8

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agree Mike but what timing!

AngryTory said...

Insurance companies in 1931 were reluctant to pay out. Claimants were referred to a clause in small print that said fire caused by an earthquake does not form part of their fire insurance

The secret to "rebuilding" Napier was realising insurance wouldn't pay, rapidly demolishing everything damaged, removing regulations, and then allowing the current economics to justify any rebuild.

The same course should have been followed in Chch - the govt cancelling insurance contracts & EQC as necessary. Except of course there is no economic case for a Chch rebuild --- nor would the be any case for a Wgtn rebuild when (not if, when) that gets wasted.

Cancel the insurances, cancel the benefits, flatten the place, and people will go to where there are real (not government subsidised) jobs - notably Auckland, Perth, Shenzen.

Derek Williams said...

Mike you have fallen into the trap of many accademics with minimal comprehension of complex issues involving buildings in Napier and NZ as a whole built during an evolving era when no building codes let alone quake ones existed

There were none until 1965 the year the Ch CH CTV building was constructed.

The plans preceeded inadequate 1965codes. There was little knowlege then of how earthquakes moved ground at epicentre at various depths or outwards of that.

Quakes like those in Ch Ch and Japan promote knowldge and changes to building codes world wide

Most buildings in Napiers CBD are built on former tidal lagoon as is the greater part of the city fom Napier to Taradale and subject to liquafaction and tusami risk.

The Williams 1910 building spoken of is no exeception as I indicated in a list of others more than 10 years ago and was proven right in all cases after post Ch Ch quake inspections.

These include Nutach architects pre and post 1931 quakes buildings. One is the former Napier Mail office in Tennyson St built in 1933 vacated as unsafe earlier this year on almost the same criteria I assessed it after studying plans in general and foundations in particular.

With respect Mike you dont know what you are talking about and as is said in the construction trade amature electricians burn houses down.

Derek Williams UK Structural Brick work & Drainage retired.

Derek Williams said...

Agreed the art deco and post 1931 quake buildings that survived with some damage in most cases are pleasing to they eye but safe they are not

Derek Williams UK Structural Brickwork & drainage (retired)

Mike Butler said...

While I appreciate the informed comments by Derek Williams, I have to say that:
(1) Since the costs of the earthquake-strengthening proposals are 50 times the benefits, the proposals are logically of no benefit.
(2) There is a certain amount of futility of going to great lengths to strengthen a building to theoretically withstand a 6.5 quake when a 7.5 quake could come along and flatten it.
(3) The Christchurch earthquake has shown that while most buildings fared quite well, local and central government did not fare so well and significant administrative reform is required.
(4) The earthquake has created a double business opportunity for engineers who are paid to recommend that buildings be strengthened or demolished, and are paid again to design the strengthening or demolition.
I accept that as a former journalist and current residential building owner (no, I’m not an academic) I have minimal understanding of complex engineering issues. But I am capable of observing the current circus around earthquake issues and am able to apply a bit of logic.
Yes, the 1910 Williams Building in Napier may come down in a future earthquake, and that may result in injury or death. But a current engineer’s opinion means that the building definitely will come down in the foreseeable future. In the absence of that engineer’s report, it is most likely that ongoing Napier development would mean that the outdated Williams Building would have been redeveloped to more suitable tenancies and in so doing would have been upgraded to the current code.

derek williams said...

Thank you Mike. In the end it comes down to a building owner having the vision and bravery to invest in the upgrading and saving of history like the former post office building has found.

There is strong legal liability in an Online 1996 Privy Council ruling Hamlin v Invercargill City

Qoute-

" A Territorial Authority is responsible for that which its Officers and Inspectors approve or pass"

There appears no responsibility on elected members who overule officers in consent applications creating precedents for mistakes which is stupid and needs sorting out.

jh said...

AngryTory said...

The secret to "rebuilding" Napier was realising insurance wouldn't pay, rapidly demolishing everything damaged, removing regulations, and then allowing the current economics to justify any rebuild.

The same course should have been followed in Chch - the govt cancelling insurance contracts & EQC as necessary. Except of course there is no economic case for a Chch rebuild --- nor would the be any case for a Wgtn rebuild when (not if, when) that gets wasted.

Cancel the insurances, cancel the benefits, flatten the place, and people will go to where there are real (not government subsidised) jobs - notably Auckland, Perth, Shenzen.


That is interesting. How could the government just cancel (what I assume are ) contracts?

and on the other point about there being no economic case for a Christchurch rebuild......?

It comes back to what does (someone) do for a living or "what do the people of Christchurch doooo?" as I was once asked. The same applies to Auckland: "what do the people of Auckland dooooo?". Once you would have said Christchurch was a service center for all the farmland on the Canterbury Plain and Auckland a distribution center for the rich dairy land of the Waikato. Now however, we have a people servicing sector as immigration is allowed and the worlds well healed come to pick the eyes out of it's liveability...there's an economic case for that?

derek williams said...

Hi Mike and interested readers. Looking at many hours of demolition monitoring video's and photo's of 1931 pre quake Napier brick and concrete buildings and post 1931 Art Deco concrete box buldings there are re-occuring construction flaws in all.

The concrete foundations often have in-adequate or no steel reinforcing and smothe where there is not twisted that deters detachment from concrete under quake forces.

Concrete pillars have steel but smooth without stirrups round them with no tied cross steels in cast in situ suspended floors and roofs

Pre quake brick buildings with concrete foundations in many cases have no steel and under fired soft bricks put in at pouring seriously weakening the concrete.

With no steel in foundations the concrete pillars are standing on the foundations not tied to them.

The same serious technical faults were monitored during demolition of the 1925 Tremain Real Estate building in Taradale in 2012.

It is a mistake to assume because a building survived the 1931 Napier quake and recent Ch Ch quakes they are safe They are not.