At the ex­tremes

The ev­i­dence i s there – ex­treme weather events are oc­cur­ring more fre­quently than ever. So what role should de­sign play i n tak­ing i nto ac­count the i ncreased ri sk? Ben Mack i nves­ti­gates.

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Ben Mack i nves­ti­gat es how t o de­sign f or ex­treme weather e vents

Fehi, Gita, Hola… it’s been a busy cy­clone sea­son in Aotearoa. Like­wise, the threat of dev­as­tat­ing earthquakes is ever-present, if the Christchurch earthquakes and the 2016 Kaikōura earth­quake is any­thing to go by. There’s also the risk of vol­canic erup­tions and tsunamis, hu­man-caused dis­as­ters such as nu­clear win­ter, and the in­evitabil­ity of sea level rise.

The point is, New Zealand is a pretty ex­treme place.

And it may get more ex­treme – or at least, the ef­fects will. Since the 1980s, the cost of weather-re­lated dam­age world­wide has risen from about US$50 bil­lion per year to nearly US$200 bil­lion. Across the ditch, the Com­mon­wealth Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion pre­dicts the cost of re­plac­ing build­ings be­cause of ex­treme weather could soar past $1 tril­lion in Aus­tralia alone by the end of this cen­tury. Mean­while, the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s 2017 Global Risks Re­port says ex­treme weather events are the top risk in terms of like­li­hood and sec­ond top risk in terms of im­pact, just af­ter weapons of mass de­struc­tion. Such ex­treme chal­lenges mean it’s more im­por­tant than ever to be able to de­sign struc­tures that can meet them. And it’s safe to say the so­lu­tions ar­chi­tects in New Zealand and abroad are com­ing up with are con­sid­er­ably more ad­vanced than the old No.8 wire.

Bit­ter cold

Antarc­tica. Earth’s cold­est con­ti­nent has long been in­fa­mous for its in­hos­pitable con­di­tions – but that hasn’t de­terred Antarc­tica New Zealand from car­ry­ing out re­search there at Scott Base for about 60 years.

The Gov­ern­ment has al­lo­cated $6.2 mil­lion for a fea­si­bil­ity study of a re­design of the base. De­pend­ing if re­de­vel­op­ment goes ahead and what de­sign is cho­sen, Antarc­tica New Zealand chief ex­ec­u­tive Peter Beggs says the process could take up to a decade.

Four firms have suc­cess­fully ap­plied to carry out work in separate ar­eas: Jas­max-Hugh Broughton Ar­chi­tects (ar­chi­tec­ture), Turner and Townsend (quan­tity sur­vey­ing), WSP Opus (struc­tural/civil en­gi­neer­ing), and Steensen Varm­ing (build­ing ser­vices). Teams will spend the next 12 months cre­at­ing four con­cept de­signs based on user re­quire­ments, site in­ves­ti­ga­tions to un­der­stand en­vi­ron­men­tal con­straints and any learn­ings from the ex­pe­ri­ences of other na­tions’ Antarc­tic pro­grammes. Antarc­tica New Zealand will then rec­om­mend a pre­ferred op­tion for a mod­ern, low-im­pact, ef­fi­cient fa­cil­ity, and a de­tailed busi­ness case with con­cept de­signs will be pre­sented to Gov­ern­ment in De­cem­ber 2018.

Si­mon Shel­ton, Antarc­tica New Zealand se­nior project man­ager and Scott Base Re­de­vel­op­ment project man­ager, says the cho­sen firms will need to be able to meet the chal­lenges of Antarc­tica’s ex­treme en­vi­ron­ment.

“They need to be able to work as part of our or­gan­i­sa­tion and un­der­stand our en­vi­ron­men­tal, cul­tural and lo­gis­ti­cal re­quire­ments,” he says. “We chose these or­gan­i­sa­tions for their op­er­a­tional skill, in­no­va­tion, val­ues and will­ing­ness to col­lab­o­rate.”

Euan MacKel­lar of Jas­max, one half of the Jas­max-Hugh Broughton ar­chi­tects team, says he’s look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenge.

“We will need to de­liver high per­for­mance build­ings in one of the most ex­treme nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments on the planet,” he says. “It is a huge priv­i­lege to be part of the com­mit­ted team cre­at­ing de­signs which will help our sci­en­tists work­ing in Antarc­tica.”

A team of four de­sign­ers vis­ited Antarc­tica this past De­cem­ber, and then again in Fe­bru­ary, to be­gin the de­sign process.

But how do you de­sign in an area where win­ter tem­per­a­tures can plunge to more than 40 de­grees Cel­sius be­low zero, with sus­tained winds of more than 100 kilo­me­tres per hour?

There is prece­dence for what could work. Antarc­tica New Zealand also re­cently com­pleted a three-year up­grade of the Hil­lary Field Cen­tre (HFC) at Scott Base. The up­grade – which also was bud­geted for $6.2 mil­lion – was the south­ern­most build­ing project in the world dur­ing con­struc­tion.

The project added three new in­ter­nal lab­o­ra­to­ries: a mo­bile con­tainer lab­o­ra­tory in­clud­ing a ‘plug-and-play’ dock­ing fa­cil­ity, dou­bling the field de­ploy­ment prepa­ra­tion area with a ‘warm porch,’ in­creased freezer stor­age space for field sam­ples (such as ice cores), a work­sta­tion area for up to 15 people, three ad­di­tional meet­ing rooms, and a break­out space. That might seem sim­ple enough to build in a place like Christchurch where Antarc­tica New Zealand is based, but in the ex­treme en­vi­ron­ment of Antarc­tica, it re­quired spe­cialised equip­ment, con­struc­tion tech­niques and safety mea­sures, to name a few chal­lenges.

For the con­struc­tion, a drilling rig was flown to Antarc­tica in Novem­ber 2015 in a US Air Force C17 air­craft for drilling, blast­ing and cut­ting earth­works. As the ground in Antarc­tica is per­ma­nently frozen, the only means of ex­ca­va­tion was to blast and re­move the frag­mented ma­te­rial.

On ar­rival of a ship late Jan­uary 2016, all pre-cast con­crete, a crane, steel frames and build­ing ma­te­ri­als within 40 con­tain­ers were off­loaded. The pre-cast con­crete foun­da­tions shipped down were po­si­tioned with tie rods drilled two me­tres into the per­mafrost. Ex­ca­vated ma­te­rial was back­filled. By mid-

We should be de­sign­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively, with en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists, en­vi­ron­men­tal engi­neers, and ecol­o­gists, l ook­ing be­yond the i mme­di­ate risks and a re­ac­tive ap­proach.

Fe­bru­ary 2016, all steel work frame and pre­cast floor pan­els of both porches was erected, fol­lowed by com­plete en­clo­sure by early March – a race against the clock be­fore the ap­proach­ing Antarc­tic win­ter and con­stant dark­ness.

“We had to work to re­ally tight time frames that were fixed,” says Shel­ton. “If we missed the ship, there wasn’t another one for a whole year!”

Shel­ton adds more de­tails. “About 180 people were in­volved in the build. They were all brought in and out over the three years. It was im­por­tant that we man­aged fa­tigue lev­els by bring­ing in ad­di­tional staff.”

Shel­ton says he’s proud of the work that was done – not just be­cause it was fin­ished on time and un­der bud­get, but be­cause it meets the needs of the sci­en­tists work­ing in Antarc­tica and shows ex­treme en­vi­ron­ments can be over­come by good plan­ning and in­no­va­tive de­sign.

“Any­one can cre­ate a build­ing, but a build­ing that func­tions well and is in­tu­itive and caters for its in­tended use – that’s the goal,” he says. “It’s not just about build­ing some­thing that is de­signed. It’s hav­ing a fa­cil­ity that people love to be in and love to use.”

High (and not-so- high) wa­ter

About 71 per­cent of the Earth’s sur­face is cov­ered by wa­ter. And think we should be try­ing harder to live there.

There are a few bold ideas that have been pro­posed. Build­ing things un­der­wa­ter has been done, but an en­tire sta­dium un­der the waves, as has been pro­posed for Auck­land Har­bour, would be a world-first. Yet the project has been the sub­ject of sig­nif­i­cant crit­i­cism, and it’ll prob­a­bly be years – if ever – be­fore it can be re­alised.

Build­ing on top of the wa­ter is another idea. The con­cept of seast­eading has been cham­pi­oned by sev­eral people, in­clud­ing ‘New Zealand’s own’ Peter Thiel, who has poured more than $2 mil­lion into an or­gan­i­sa­tion known as The Seast­eading In­sti­tute.

The Seast­eading In­sti­tute has reached an agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment of French Poly­ne­sia for float­ing is­lands to be built in the pro­tected wa­ters of a Tahi­tian la­goon. The plan is to have con­struc­tion be­gin by 2020.

“We be­lieve the first key step is for seast­eading to be­come not just pos­si­ble, but sus­tain­able – tech­no­log­i­cally, legally, and fi­nan­cially,” the or­gan­i­sa­tion states. “In other words, the cost of liv­ing on the ocean must be low enough, and the busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties promis­ing enough, such that there is an eco­nomic in­cen­tive for people to live on seast­eads.”

But wa­ter on land can cre­ate ex­treme build­ing chal­lenges, too. Flood­ing – and sea level rise – comes to mind. Venice is sink­ing, but there are sev­eral more mod­ern so­lu­tions to deal­ing with wa­ter.

For in­stance, Dan­ish firm Third Na­ture has de­signed a flood-proof car park. Called Pop-Up, it would use an un­der­ground reser­voir to push the struc­ture above ground as the reser­voir fills with wa­ter. When the reser­voir emp­ties, it low­ers.

“With Pop-Up, we have a hu­mane re­sponse to man-made prob­lems, com­bin­ing three chal­lenges in one over­all so­lu­tion, show­ing the world how cli­mate adap­ta­tion, mo­bil­ity and ur­ban de­vel­op­ment do not have to be each other’s op­po­sites in the vi­able cities of the fu­ture,” says Ole Schrøder, one of Third Na­ture’s founders.

Yet Grant Bai­ley, prin­ci­pal land­scape ar­chi­tect of New Zealand firm Isth­mus, says the chal­lenges go be­yond sea level rise, or se­vere droughts that lead to ex­tra­or­di­nary wa­ter short­ages like what’s hap­pened in Cape Town, South Africa.

“In­creased high in­ten­sity rain fall events will also chal­lenge flood man­age­ment and soil sta­bil­ity,” he says. “Dur­ing ex­treme dry pe­ri­ods soil ero­sion will also be an is­sue for ru­ral New Zealand. Plan­ning re­quires a range of tac­tics to man­age this change.”

Bai­ley, who has nearly two decades of pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tor ex­pe­ri­ence, adds there are local ex­am­ples of projects Isth­mus has worked on that could serve as mod­els for how to deal with the chal­lenge of wa­ter, be it too much or too lit­tle. “[For] Kop­u­paka Re­serve in West Auck­land, we de­signed a stormwa­ter re­serve and pub­lic open space to pro­vide for flood re­silience and wa­ter qual­ity im­prove­ments,” he says. “Our ap­proach was a uniquely New Zealand re­sponse, one which con­sid­ered the cul­tural val­ues as­so­ci­ated with wa­ter.

“Wo­ven into the land­scape tim­ber crib re­tain­ing struc­ture pro­vided for ecol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and amenity so­lu­tions in an in­te­grated de­sign that bal­anced land, people and cul­ture. We leveraged the value of the wa­ter and flood­ing as­pects to cre­ate an open space that cel­e­brates and works with these nat­u­ral pro­cesses.” There are more ex­am­ples. “Our work at One­hunga fore­shore, while not ad­dress­ing spe­cific ex­tremes, does high­light how our coastal edge can be de­signed in an en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive way. We cre­ated a re­serve with a num­ber of beaches and habi­tats for shore­birds. [It shows that] recla­ma­tion and pro­tec­tion works does not have to be hard en­gi­neer­ing re­sponses.”


Any­one who’s spent much time in Aotearoa knows there’s a rea­son one of its nick­names is the shaky isles.

Of course, a lot has been in­vested into tech­nolo­gies to help build­ings stand up bet­ter dur­ing and af­ter earthquakes, es­pe­cially since the Christchurch earthquakes seven years ago that killed 185 people.

Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury (UC) Ar­chi­tec­tural En­gi­neer­ing lec­turer Dr Giuseppe Lo­por­caro and Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor Milo Kral’s re­search into a new tech­nique for as­sess­ing dam­age to steel re­bars (the steel re­in­forc­ing rods con­tained within con­crete slabs) – re­cently awarded $20,000 in UC’s an­nual Tech Jump­start com­pe­ti­tion – could have ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for the con­struc­tion in­dus­try in the fu­ture. Lo­por­caro and Kral’s re­search will help de­ter­mine how much rebar has al­ready stretched and how much ca­pac­ity it still has be­fore break­ing if fur­ther shak­ing oc­curs, as rebar can only stretch so much be­fore it breaks.

But why steel at all? That’s the view of Dr Jon Tan­ner, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Wood Pro­ces­sors and Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, a wood in­dus­try ad­vo­cacy group.

Writ­ing for news web­site Stuff last year, he claimed wood has sev­eral ad­van­tages. “It is lightweight. A wooden build­ing weighs less than a steel con­crete struc­ture with ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits in both con­struc­tion and re­silience. It is flex­i­ble. It can bend and stretch. The de­signed-in ‘snap-back’ qual­ity is para­mount in a quake.”

Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury pro­fes­sor Andy Buchanan has de­vel­oped a com­pletely new sys­tem for earth­quak­ere­sis­tant build­ings us­ing ‘post­ten­sioned’ struc­tural tim­ber, a stronger and safer al­ter­na­tive to tra­di­tional con­crete and steel struc­tures. The tech­nol­ogy has been used in build­ings in places like Vi­enna and Van­cou­ver, and won the top prize at the Ki­wiNet Re­search Awards back in 2015.

NZTech chief ex­ec­u­tive Graeme Muller says when de­sign­ing a build­ing to with­stand the ex­tremes of an earth­quake, tech can’t be over­looked – es­pe­cially ad­vanced spa­tial tech­nol­ogy and geo­graphic in­tel­li­gence. Such tech­nol­ogy was a large rea­son why the 2016 Kaik­oura earth­quake – a mag­ni­tude-7.8 tem­blor – did not cause more dam­age than it did, he says.

“Spa­tial tech has played such a large role in the rapid re­sponse to the earth­quake and flow­ing into the fact, this is now a grow­ing ex­port op­por­tu­nity for New Zealand.”

That’s not all, he says. “Ea­gle Tech­nol­ogy, En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury and oth­ers have helped the Min­istry of Civil De­fence and Emer­gency Man­age­ment and their as­so­ci­ated re­gional of­fices de­velop sit­u­a­tional aware­ness maps, 3D scenes, site maps and build­ing in­spec­tion ap­pli­ca­tions to gather and dis­trib­ute crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion to stake­hold­ers.”

In other words: geospa­tial tech and 3D maps can help de­ter­mine earth­quake risk – which can in­flu­ence what is built.

But what about up­grad­ing ex­ist­ing struc­tures? In the 1990s, the Par­lia­ment Build­ings in Welling­ton were re­fur­bished and strength­ened with blocks of rub­ber and lead that were placed between the new foun­da­tions and the con­crete beams. The blocks, which act like shock ab­sorbers, can pre­vent large por­tions of move­ment gen­er­ated dur­ing an earth­quake from be­ing trans­ferred to the build­ings’ foun­da­tions. This method of earth­quake-re­sis­tant de­sign, de­vel­oped in New Zealand, is called “base iso­la­tion” be­cause it helps iso­late the build­ing from its foun­da­tions.

Those weren’t the only up­grades. Once separated from their foun­da­tions, a ‘moat’ was placed around the Bee­hive to al­low it to move up to 300 mil­lime­tres dur­ing an earth­quake. Re­in­forced con­crete was also added to the walls, which were joined to the floors with a com­bi­na­tion of con­crete and steel.

Speak­ing of things mov­ing when the ground shakes, Auck­land-based Tec­tonus has been de­vel­op­ing an in­no­va­tive so­lu­tion that wouldn’t just be rev­o­lu­tion­ary in New Zealand, but could also be used in con­struc­tion projects around the world.

Tec­tonus’ Re­silient Slip Fric­tion Joint (RSFJ) can be placed between large beams of a build­ing or in the cor­ners of walls. When an earth­quake strikes, the joints can move, then slip back into place when the shak­ing stops.

Al­ready the sub­ject of world­wide in­ter­est, one of the largest projects in New Zealand to use Tec­tonus’ tech is the new ter­mi­nal at Nel­son Air­port, which is in­stalling RSFJs through­out. The $32 mil­lion project – cre­ated by Stu­dio Pa­cific Ar­chi­tec­ture and man­aged by Aes­cu­lus Project Man­age­ment – is ex­pected to take about 24 months to com­plete. Hu­man-made ex­tremes The nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment can be a pretty ex­treme place. But the truth is, us hu­mans do a pretty good (or in this case, bad) job of mak­ing things more ex­treme our­selves.

Nu­clear war. Pol­lu­tion. En­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion caused by de­vel­op­ment. The list goes on.

Un­less we build smarter – or stop find­ing ever-more-di­abol­i­cal ways of killing each other in dis­putes over

re­sources or ar­ti­fi­cial bound­aries – it seems pretty likely the chal­lenges will only be­come more ex­treme, too.

But as the chal­lenges be­come more ex­treme, so too have the de­sign so­lu­tions be­come in­creas­ingly in­no­va­tive.

Take the Sval­bard Global Seed Vault. Lo­cated high above the Arc­tic Cir­cle in the re­mote Sval­bard Ar­chi­pel­ago, the ul­tra-se­cure fa­cil­ity is de­signed to store sam­ples of all the world’s seeds, which could be used to help re­store the en­vi­ron­ment – and en­sure hu­man­ity’s sur­vival – in case of global catas­tro­phe. In other words: apoc­a­lypse in­sur­ance.

Given the im­por­tance of its mis­sion, it comes as no sur­prise that the Seed Vault is among the most se­cure build­ings in the world. Sval­bard was con­sid­ered ideal be­cause it was not prone to earthquakes and had per­mafrost, which aids seed preser­va­tion. At 130 me­tres above sea level, it will stay dry even if all the ice caps melted. Lo­cally mined coal pro­vides power for re­frig­er­a­tion units that fur­ther cool the seeds. Even if all the equip­ment did fail, it would take sev­eral weeks at the min­i­mum be­fore the tem­per­a­ture inside the fa­cil­ity rose to the sur­round­ing sand­stone bedrock's tem­per­a­ture of mi­nus-three de­grees Cel­sius – and sev­eral cen­turies be­fore it rose to the freez­ing mark.

In­no­va­tive as it is, the Seed Vault does have a bunker-like de­sign – and that’s not a co­in­ci­dence. Af­ter all, the bunker and its many re­lated de­signs – such as fall­out shel­ters and panic rooms –em­pha­sise se­cu­rity above al­most ev­ery­thing else.

Yet bunker de­signs aren’t all bare con­crete walls and re­in­forced steel doors (though there are plenty of those, of course) these days. There’s a boom­ing de­mand for so-called ‘lux­ury bunkers’.

Gary Lynch, gen­eral man­ager of Texas-based Ris­ing S Com­pany, says 2016 sales for their high-end bunkers grew 700 per­cent in 2016 com­pared to 2015. Fol­low­ing the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent, sales jumped another 300 per­cent.

Most bunkers are de­signed with ne­ces­si­ties such as be­ing able to with­stand a nu­clear strike, and equipped with power sys­tems, wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion sys­tems, blast valves, Nu­clear-Bi­o­log­i­cal-Chem­i­cal (NBC) air fil­tra­tion, enough food to last for at least a year, and hy­dro­pon­ics for grow­ing more food. But then there are fa­cil­i­ties like the Sur­vival Condo in the US state of Kansas, where in ad­di­tion to an 85-square-me­tre half-floor res­i­dence or a two-level, 335-square-me­tre pent­house there’s a pool, gen­eral store, theatre, bar and li­brary (for those won­der­ing, the con­dos start at US$4.5 mil­lion).

If en­dur­ing the end times in the mid­dle of the nation that’s per­haps the most likely tar­get for a nu­clear at­tack isn’t for you, there’s the Op­pidum in the Czech Repub­lic, billed as “the largest bil­lion­aire bunker in the world.” The top-se­cret fa­cil­ity took 10 years to build, and now in­cludes both an above-ground es­tate and a 7,150-square-me­tre bunker. It can be built to the owner’s ex­act spec­i­fi­ca­tions, and in­cludes a swim­ming pool, spa, cin­ema, gar­den, wine vault, stor­age space for art col­lec­tions, and more – all un­der­ground, of course. Af­ter all, if you can af­ford it, why not ride out the end of the world in style?

Out­lets through­out the world have also cov­ered the trend of Amer­i­can en­trepreneurs build­ing lux­ury bolt­holes in New Zealand. The more ru­ral South Is­land is an es­pe­cially pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for these well-heeled prep­pers to de­sign the for­ti­fied com­plex of their dreams (or night­mares). As Reid Hoff­man, co-founder of LinkedIn told The New Yorker last year: “Say­ing you’re ‘buy­ing a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more.”

A “there i s no tr y ” fu­ture

Whether the de­sign chal­lenges hu­man be­ings are fac­ing are nat­u­ral or of our own do­ing, Isth­mus’ Bai­ley says the com­mon­al­ity they all share is they re­quire col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“We should be de­sign­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively, with en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists, en­vi­ron­men­tal engi­neers, and ecol­o­gists, look­ing be­yond the im­me­di­ate risks and a re­ac­tive ap­proach,” he says.

Pamela Bell, CEO of Pre­fabNZ, says pre­fab­ri­cated con­struc­tion – build­ings built off-site and then moved to where they need to be – could be a so­lu­tion. She says pre­fab­ri­cated build­ings can be an ad­van­tage when de­sign­ing for ex­tremes be­cause they can be built off-site in less ex­treme en­vi­ron­ments, are quicker to build, more sus­tain­able, and can in­crease health and safety as op­posed to a struc­ture built on-site in a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment.

Bell adds New Zealand al­ready has ex­pe­ri­ence in this area. Most of the South Is­land town of Twizel con­sists of pre­fab­ri­cated con­struc­tion, she says, and strict build­ing codes mean there is no qual­ity dif­fer­ence between struc­tures built off or on-site.

And Bell says New Zealand al­ready has a long his­tory with de­sign­ing for ex­tremes.

“Māori were mak­ing build­ings at the edge of wet­lands be­fore coloni­sa­tion. So we’ve been do­ing this for a long time.”

There’s a rea­son for this, she says – and is the rea­son we need to keep de­sign­ing for ex­tremes. “New Zealand’s ex­treme, full stop.”

Pop up car park Sval­bard Seed vault

Jamie Lester (WSP Opus), Stephen Mid­dle­ton ( Jas­max), Martin Craig (Steensen Varm­ing), Si­mon Shel­ton (Antarc­tica New Zealand), Hugh Broughton Hugh Broughton Ar­chi­tects) by Antarc­tica New Zealand Scott Base with Mount Ere­bus in back­ground. Photo by Dr...

The Op­pidum in Czech Repub­lic

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