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Understanding post-earthquake decisions on multi-storey concrete buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand


The 2010–2011 Canterbury earthquakes, which involved widespread damage during the February 2011 event and ongoing aftershocks near the Christchurch Central Business District, left this community with more than $NZD 40 billion in losses (~20 % GDP), demolition of approximately 60 % of multi-storey concrete buildings (3 storeys and up), and closure of the core business district for over 2 years. The aftermath of the earthquake sequence has revealed unique issues and complexities for the owners of commercial and multi-storey residential buildings in relation to unexpected technical, legal, and financial challenges when making decisions regarding the future of their buildings impacted by the earthquakes. The paper presents a framework to understand the factors influencing post-earthquake decisions (repair or demolish) on multi-storey concrete buildings in Christchurch. The study, conducted in 2014, includes in-depth investigations on 15 case-study buildings using 27 semi-structured interviews with various property owners, property managers, insurers, engineers, and government authorities in New Zealand. The interviews revealed insights regarding the multitude of factors influencing post-earthquake decisions and losses. As expected, the level of damage and repairability (cost to repair) generally dictated the course of action. There is strong evidence, however, that other variables have significantly influenced the decision on a number of buildings, such as insurance, business strategies, perception of risks, building regulations (and compliance costs), and government decisions. The decision-making process for each building is complex and unique, not solely driven by structural damage. Furthermore, the findings have put the spotlight on insurance policy wordings and the paradoxical effect of insurance on the recovery of Christchurch, leading to other challenges and issues going forward.

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This research was conducted in collaboration with CERA, the Christchurch City Council, GNS Science, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), and the University of Auckland. The authors gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Erica Seville and Dave Brunsdon from Resilient Organisations in discussing the research design and context, developing an appropriate list of interviewees, and providing logistical assistance. We also acknowledge the generous cooperation and time provided by the interviewees and local engineers throughout this study. Support for the University of British Columbia research team was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Compliance with ethical standard

The primary research for this paper received ethics approval from the University of British Columbia Behavioural Ethics Research Board (ID: H14-01332) as well as the University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee (ID: 012911).

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Frédéric Marquis.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

List of interviewees by category Interview location and date
Category A: Building executive officers/owner’s representatives
Connal Townsend, Chief Executive: Property Council of New Zealand Auckland, 14 October 2014
Darren Moses, Unit Manager: Christchurch City Council Christchurch, 29 October 2014
David Meates, Chief Executive: Canterbury District Health Board Christchurch, 24 September 2014
Gary Jarvis, Group Operations Manager: Heritage Hotel Management Auckland, 13 October 2014
Jeff Field, University Registrar: University of Canterbury Christchurch, 26 September 2014
Josie Ogden-Schroeder, Chief Executive: YMCA Christchurch Christchurch, 25 September 2014
Mark Youthed, Senior Commercial Asset Manager: Knight Frank Christchurch, 24 September 2014
Miles Romanes, Project Manager: Pace Project Management Christchurch, 24 September 2014
Participant A1, Structural Engineer Christchurch, 23 September 2014
Category B: Building developers/property investors
Chris Gudgeon, Chief Executive: Kiwi Income Property Trust Auckland, 15 October 2014
Ernest Duval, Trust Manager/CEO: ETP/Fortis Construction Christchurch, 24 September 2014
Glen Boultwood, Fund Manager: Eureka Funds Auckland, 15 October 2014
Lisle Hood, Property Investor: Business Building Systems Christchurch, 22 October 2014
Miles Middleton, Property Investor: Viewmount Orchards Christchurch, 25 September 2014
Participant B1, General Manager Christchurch, 5 November 2014
Peter Rae, Chairman and Managing Director: Peter Rae Industries Christchurch, 23 September 2014
Philip Burdon, Property Investor and Developer Christchurch, 5 November 2014
Shaun Stockman, Managing Director: KPI Rothschild Property Christchurch, 22 September 2014
Category C: Insurance
Jimmy Higgins, Executive GM—Earthquake Programme: Vero NZ Auckland, 15 October 2014
John Lucas, Insurance Manager: Insurance Council of New Zealand Wellington, 17 October 2014
Murray Spicer, Engineer acting for insurers: MacDonald Barnett Auckland, 14 October 2014
Simon Foley, Distribution Manager: Zurich New Zealand Auckland, 15 October 2014
Storm McVay, Executive Broker: Crombie Lockwood Christchurch, 22 September 2014
Category D: Government authorities
John O’Hagan, Lead Engineer—Significant Buildings Unit: CERA Christchurch, 22 October 2014
John Snook, Structural Engineer: CERA Christchurch, 30 September 2014
Participant D1, CERA Christchurch, 26 September 2014
Steve McCarthy, Regulatory Services Manager: CCC Christchurch, 26 September 2014

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Marquis, F., Kim, J.J., Elwood, K.J. et al. Understanding post-earthquake decisions on multi-storey concrete buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Bull Earthquake Eng 15, 731–758 (2017).

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  • Multi-storey concrete buildings
  • Insurance
  • Residual capacity
  • Damage
  • Decision-making
  • Canterbury earthquakes