New Zealand’s 2016 Kaikōura Earthquake (Magnitude 7.8) hit Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington’s 10-storey Rankine Brown library building hard. It also resulted in a 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. 

"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."- 2021 ACE Awards Winner – Silver

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.

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Henry Tatham

Technical Director - Structural Engineering

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Rob Jury

Chief Engineer - Structures

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