Ground-breaking test shows new low-damage New Zealand construction practice can withstand earthquakes

( A team of QuakeCoRE researchers have just completed a significant test of New Zealand building construction that shows new design methods will withstand future earthquakes without the damage observed during the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquake sequences. A two-storey precast concrete building was tested on one of the world’s largest and most flexible shake table arrays.

The shake table is part of the world-class earthquake engineering facilities at the International Joint Research Laboratory of Earthquake Engineering (ILEE) at Tongji University in China. QuakeCoRE joined a partnership with ILEE in 2016, which has given New Zealand researchers the opportunity to access some of the world’s top earthquake engineering testing facilities.

QuakeCoRE researcher Rick Henry says, “This type of test would not be possible with available equipment in New Zealand because of the size of the shake table. This means the test can be done on the whole building (10m x 6m and 8m high), rather than on individual building components as is current practice in New Zealand. This creates a much more realistic testing environment.”

The main objective of the test is to validate low-damage building designs being used in new construction in New Zealand. No similar tests have been conducted on New Zealand construction methods, and thus in the past, it was not always possible to determine if the design would perform as expected when considering the entire building system.

Rick says, “If the test building performs well, New Zealand engineers can be confident that the new design methods will protect buildings from significant damage during earthquakes, avoiding the need to costly and disruptive structural repairs or demolition.”

The test building walls rock back and forth, so it can be subjected to a large number of earthquakes without sustaining significant damage. The test therefore was able to simulate different types of earthquakes, rather than a single event.

The tests started at a low intensity and gradually increased. The building was then reconfigured and the dissipating devices, which are attached to the outside of the building and reduce the impact of the shaking, were taken out and replaced. Testing was then resumed again.

The collaboration with China offers tremendous benefits to the QuakeCoRE team in being able to access globally unique facilities. In addition, it has raised Chinese interest in New Zealand construction practice and seismic design methods, such as using post-tensioned pre-cast concrete walls.

The project is led by Rick with support from co-PI Ying Zhou (Tongji University). QuakeCoRE researchers Geoff Rodgers (University of Canterbury) and Ken Elwood (University of Auckland) have also played a key role as associate investigators, and research fellow Yiqiu Lu (University of Auckland) has been based at Tongji University to coordinate and supervise the building construction and testing.

An industry advisory group with representatives from leading engineering consultancies have provided valuable input to the test objectives and building design.

In addition to funding from ILEE and QuakeCoRE, significant funding was provided by the Building System Performance Branch of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.
QuakeCoRE is a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) funded by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission, hosted by the University of Canterbury. QuakeCoRE is transforming the earthquake resilience of New Zealand through innovative world‐class research.

Media Release on 16 January 2019 by QuakeCoRE

Media Contact
Dr Rick Henry, QuakeCoRE
Phone: 021 335 726