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New building design guidance culmination of decades of seismic engineering research

Updated engineering guidance to help with the design of new buildings in New Zealand has been the culmination of decades of natural hazard research funded by Toka Tū Ake EQC and other research agencies.

Standards New Zealand have today put out a draft technical specification for public comment for new seismic design solutions for designers and engineers. Once feedback is considered, the new guidance is expected to be formally released in the coming months.

“The updated guidance is in response to new science related to the National Seismic Hazard Model (NSHM) and a number of other seismic research projects funded by Toka Tū Ake EQC,” says Professor Ken Elwood, the Chief Engineer for Toka Tū Ake EQC and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

The National Seismic Hazard Model was launched in October 2022 and provides detailed insights into the expected severity of earthquake shaking in each region.

“In most regions the forecasted severity proved higher than previously anticipated and this new guidance for seismic loadings on buildings and their content, are providing methods for engineers to respond to this new knowledge,” says Professor Elwood.

The National Seismic Hazard Model draws on a huge volume of global and local seismic research to create maps and probability levels of earthquake shaking for the next 10, 50 or 100 years.

The proposed draft Technical Specification (TS 1170.5: Structural Design Actions, Part 5: Earthquake actions – New Zealand) sets out procedures and criteria for establishing the actions to be used in the design of buildings in New Zealand.

Professor Elwood stresses that the update is not a change to the building code at this time, and SNZ are seeking public comment for those in the industry that have a vested interest in designing new buildings.

Research by some of New Zealand’s leading academics contributed to the proposals by MBIE’s Seismic Risk Working Group, many of whom have been funded by research grants from Toka Tū Ake EQC.

The agency each year invests over $10m in research and Prof Elwood says the engineering updates are a terrific example where research investment leads to tangible outcomes for the construction industry.

Prof Elwood lists a number Toka Tū Ake EQC-funded projects that informed the working group, like the work by Professor Tim Sullivan (University of Canterbury), on calculating seismic loading for building components, or the research by Professor Ilan Noy (Victoria University) on cost-benefit analysis approaches for assessing the value of investing in seismic resilience of buildings.

“Another big influence was Professor Misko Cubrinovski (University of Canterbury), who studied soil-structure interaction, or Professor Liam Witherspoon (University of Auckland) who developed solutions for assessing geotechnical conditions at building sites,” says Professor Elwood.

“New Zealand has some of the best experts in these areas and it is wonderful to see decades of research being used to make our buildings more resilient and keep New Zealanders safe.”


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