New Zealand’s 2016 Kaikōura Earthquake hit Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington’s 10-storey Rankine Brown library building hard. It also resulted in a potential world first to base isolate lift shafts in an existing building.

The Rankine Brown library is the heart of the Kelburn campus. In 2002 the primary building was upgraded and base isolated, however the lifts shafts weren’t. Immediately after the Kaikōura earthquake, we were called in to inspect the building and discovered the north and south lift shafts were damaged with cracks easily big enough to fit a cricket ball. From here it was a case of moving swiftly - it was critical to get the building re-opened safely, to enable Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University to continue operating. 

We quickly devised temporary propping beams to secure the lift shafts, to minimise the risk of further damage to the building from aftershocks. This was important in retaining the existing structure which, other than the shafts, was largely undamaged.

Within three months, the temporary works were completed and designed to accommodate a permanent solution to be built around them – even though we hadn't yet determined how this would happen. Crucially, the initial focus was on getting the library reopened, and this was achieved just 98 days after the earthquake, in time for the start of the academic year, albeit without lift access – a big win for the university.

The main works were completed three and a half years after the Kaikōura earthquake – with much of the newly installed isolation system hidden from view.

It was a seismic retrofit like no other. Creative thinking was required in a short time frame to prepare a technically sound and carefully considered construction sequence, particularly as the scope of work fell outside the ‘Acceptable Solutions’ of New Zealand’s Building Code. The lift pit also formed an incredibly tight work site: a footprint smaller than two 20’ containers side-by-side, with the only access via a garage door.  

The building is now fully base isolated, and the lift shafts move with the rest of the building during an earthquake. Additional seismic performance improvements have meant the building’s resilience has been significantly improved. 


Award wins


2021 ACE Awards Winner – Silver:

"Beca is recognised for its consulting excellence in its commitment to retaining this iconic building in a cost-effective manner, technical expertise, and collaborative approach, including with the steel fabricator MJH, and the resilience this solution delivers."

2022 IStructE Structural Awards – Winner (more info here)

"Great pains have been taken to restore this library following earthquake damage and the efforts to justify the building through repairs and upgrade are admirable, providing enormous savings on the alternative of new construction. The design implemented improvements beyond code requirements under severe working constraints as the library remained in use throughout.

‘There was impressive communication of the engineer’s role in the process at a digestible level for everyone involved to understand. This communication of the complex works to building users throughout the project stands out as a good example of the importance of our profession: teamwork, communication, collaboration and responsiveness."

50 elephants

= a suspended lift shaft


Horizontal displacement

12 weeks

to design & install temp works

Temporary propping beams (shown in blue) secure the lift shafts and minimise the risk of further damage to the building following the Kaikoura earthquake.
Piecing together like a puzzle, the permanent solution (red) is built around, and works harmoniously, with the temporary solution (blue).
The finished, permanent solution. An extraordinary piece of engineering.
Temporary propping beams (shown in blue) secure the lift shafts and minimise the risk of further damage to the building following the Kaikoura earthquake.

Our People

Henry Tatham

Technical Director - Structural Engineering

View on LinkedIn
Email Henry Tatham
Rob Jury

Chief Engineer - Structures

View on LinkedIn
Email Rob Jury