Inside the red zone - engineering project

News News & events

07 May 2012

Earthquake damaged buildings are being studied throughout Christchurch’s red zone as the world’s engineers clamour to learn what they can about earthquake damage.

CPIT Bachelor of Engineering Technology students are also making the most of the unique opportunity with CPIT tutor and structural engineer Mary Ann Halliday, who is working with Opus Consultants making detailed assessments of damaged buildings.

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Opus Consultant structural engineer Mary Ann Halliday with CPIT students Tim Mitchell and Fraser McDonald studying earthquake damage at the Christchurch Bus Exchange in the red zone.

Mary Ann is currently working on the Christchurch Bus Exchange and she invited three CPIT students along with four students from Unitec to assist her with an investigation into why the Christchurch Bus Exchange building behaved unexpectedly during the earthquakes.

“Tragic as it has been with these earthquakes in Christchurch, because I have lived in Christchurch most of my life, it’s a fantastic learning opportunity for all of the world’s engineers. We have a steady stream of engineers coming through our office from various countries trying to learn as much from this as they can.

“I have been an engineer for about 30 years and you just would never expect to see your structures tested like this, so it’s fantastic learning for everyone across the profession.”

For engineering students this kind of project is “as good as it gets” according to Head of Engineering Paul Elmes. “They will gain invaluable experience working on this project with Mary Ann in the red zone,” he said.

“This is a bit like ‘CSI Engineering’,” Mary Ann said. “We’re trying to investigate and put all the clues together to understand what has happened to the building. Obviously it was designed one way but that’s not quite the way it has behaved, so we have to be broaden our current understanding to take into account the real life testing that this building has undergone.”

Students have been drilling holes to test whether the construction matches the design and highlighting cracks to map these onto the plans of the floor, beams and columns and reviewing literature about the particular issues found on this building.

After completing the investigation, Mary Ann will make recommendations to the owner about the future of the building.

“The process of assessing a building is extremely complex. You can do more analysis on trying to figure out what has gone wrong with it than you would as a part of your initial design. When I have analysed this building I have run about 10 different models for it through some quite sophisticated computer programmes and I keep on remodelling it until it shows the kind of behaviour the building has undergone.”

Mary Ann’s students are revelling in the opportunity. “They are really enjoying it and they are putting a lot of hours into it. I’m hoping the reports they will write as a result of this building investigation will be the number one thing a prospective employer will look at to gauge their level of understanding and workplace readiness.”