Monday 31 March 2014

Two buildings

Rebecca Macfie explains the sequence of failures that led to the CTV building collapse in February, 2011. Here's the start of the mess.
And it appears that the council’s deputy buildings engineer, Graeme Tapper – a capable and experienced structural engineer with little tolerance for consulting engineers who failed to submit adequate design details – sought to do exactly that. The commission heard evidence that Tapper had periodically come into conflict with Reay over his building designs. On this occasion, he wrote to Reay’s firm, in fountain pen, asking to see the calculations behind the design and calling for further information, including regarding the connection between the shear walls and floor slabs.
However, the commission accepted the evidence of witnesses that Reay went over Tapper’s head to his boss, city engineer Bryan Bluck. “This was despite the fact that on his own evidence Dr Reay knew very little about the structural details of the building, having not reviewed any of the structural drawings prior to a permit being issued,” the commission’s report on the CTV Building noted. Reay convinced Bluck – whose approach was to rely on the “recognised expertise” of the designer – that Tapper’s concerns were unfounded.

Tapper subsequently signed off on the structural design. The commission concluded that he was either persuaded that his concerns were without foundation or, more likely, was directed by Bluck to approve it.
Rather a few subsequent opportunities to fix things were missed. Read the whole thing. I was pretty lucky to have turned down a CTV request for a 1 PM interview at their studio that day.

It's hard not to have stories like this in the back of one's mind when reading The National Business Review on the Wellington Harcourts Building (paid). The Heritage-1 listed Harcourts building is earthquake prone; the developer wants to tear it down as he does not believe it can economically be fixed up. He also would prefer to have a much higher modern tower on the site. So the heritage-buffs will reckon that he just wants to be rid of it to earn better returns on a new building; they want to block any demolition. Image below lifted from The NBR.

The Harcourts building

If the government moves quickly enough to sort out the mess that happens when unsafe buildings are under heritage protection and owners and heritage fans disagree about the feasibility of making them safe, we won't have to have a Royal Commission to sort out who's responsible for the dozens of bodies that could well wind up crushed under masonry falling from the Harcourts Building onto the busy sidewalk below in any large Wellington quake. Wouldn't that be better? Please? Somebody? I really don't want to be Cassandra here.


  1. Of course if you were only funded by the state, via applications for state funding your research would be impeccable and above reproach. Plus it would never be driven by political agendas only the pursuit of true public good. As soon as those nasty capitalist, business lobbyists got there hands on you, you immediately became their plaything, at their beck and call etc etc. Right lame attempt at sarcasm completed.

    Now I am sure the anti-alcohol, anti-sugar etc groups don't get any government grants etc, or if they do they come with no strings attached, no predetermined objectives etc. I am equally sure that is not the case.

    I have experienced first hand for many years people who assume that companies are only in it for the money (which they are). The part that they forget is that companies deliver products that consumers demand. Some products have the ability to build in a bit of demand through addiction, but outside of tobacco, I can't think of a product that is similar in addiction that is legal anyway. Companies generally cant kill off their customers etc or they don't have a business. Again the assumption is that companies spend all of their time trying to dupe people onto buying their goods. I wish it was that easy.

    So, for lazy thinkers the natural conclusion of your being funded is that they have you in their pocket. Your disclosure, rather than being seen as openness is an apology etc.

    The real reason NZ businesses keep away from the universities is because universities are useless at engaging with business, are slow to respond, don't like to divert research from something that gets a government grant to something that a company will pay for, don't like to diverge from the pure theoretical to the practical interface. This is of course a generalisation, but I do believe it is a key theme.

    I congratulate you on what you achieved and wish it was more common.

    My passing comment/generalisation is to always remember that the media are interested in only a few aspects:

    - Heroes, villains, victims or thieves
    - Celebrity, catastrophe or confrontation

    When you deal with them have these little phrases in mind and think about where they will position you to achieve their goals!

  2. Perhaps the best setup in this respect would be "antagonistic funding cooperation" - say, half of a research project funded by the alcohol industry and half by an anti-alcohol group. I am not aware such a thing has ever been done.