Rush of interest in STIC’s quake hardy building
Word is spreading about the seismic resistance of STIC’s demonstration building at Canterbury University, as dozens of property owners, developers, architects and engineers flock to see the structure that has withstood the force of thousands of earthquakes to hit the region.
STIC Chief Executive Rob Finch said a few visitors came through following the February 22 quake, which then became a trickle, and now a torrent.
“We can say to people that we’ve done the theory, and the lab testing, now we’ve built it, and had real earthquakes, and the theory, testing and response to the real thing have all matched up, absolutely as predicted, and the technology has been vindicated.”
Rob says many come in with limited knowledge of the possibilities LVL technology can offer, but quickly see the potential.
“Often as soon as they walk in, before we’ve even explained how it works, they say ‘This is not what I thought timber was, I can see now what it offers in terms of aesthetics, and I can start to understand how it might be so seismically strong’.”
Safety is their ultimate concern, Rob says.
“The building owners we’ve had through are mostly people who have had it confirmed that their building is coming down, and they are really concerned about getting tenants back in. They want to know how the seismic resistance works, and where the reassurance of safety comes from.”
Cost is nearly always the second line of questioning.
“People want to know if it is going to cost more than a concrete or steel building, and we have some solid examples to answer that question. When Architects Irving Smith Jack built the NMIT building using the EXPAN system, there was another project commissioned to cost out the same building in steel, and in concrete. The comparison between the three showed they were within a few dollars of each other, so we have the proof that this timber system can compete with the other two building materials on cost.
“We also had to come in on target as being cost competitive with a steel structure for BRANZ’s new Nikau building, and we did.”
The green aspect has also been of great interest.
“It’s great to be able to tell people that, as a building material, timber sequests enough carbon to generally offset the green house gas emissions of other materials in the building, so you end up with a carbon neutral building on day one. They also like the idea of using a sustainable, locally grown product, and local technology to form the new Christchurch.”
By the end of the tour, people have been totally impressed, he says.
“They usually wind up talking about their actual site, and what their ideal building would look like, and most have left saying seeing the EXPAN technology in a real working building has made them stop and think again, and timber is now definitely a genuine option for them in rebuilding.”
Opus International Consultants Senior Structural Engineer Andrew Brown said he was pleasantly surprised with the look and feel of the STIC building.
“It is light, airy, and a really nice space to be in. The natural material throughout the building makes it warm and inviting. Having seen this and images of the NMIT building, I know now that you can create something quite stunning using this technology.”
Andrew says Opus has been interested in the damage avoidance capabilities of the EXPAN system for some time, and after spending time over the last few months assessing buildings in the CBD, he’s seen firsthand the calamity of buildings that aren’t build to withstand major tremors.
“We are looking for projects where we could implement a timber solution using the EXPAN building technology. Many of our clients have seen the realities of not being able to get back into their buildings for a long time, so they’re now really interested in damage limiting technology as well. And there’s the safety aspect – people are certainly going to have to deem their building as safe to go into for tenants.”
Charles Etherington is one of the central city building investors Rob has taken through the building – and he’s been suitably impressed.
“We need buildings that give confidence to tenants and the public, and I believe LVL will do that better than other materials. We should build buildings now that not only stay up in a big quake, but survive with no structural damage, and these LVL beams will do that. We should also be looking to lighter large buildings on softer ground, and EXPAN is lighter than steel and concrete”.
Charles believes Christchurch needs more attractive buildings, with a New Zealand look to them. “LVL could do that, rather than the tedious concrete, steel and glass you see everywhere in the world.”