Experiencing first-hand a city in crisis and playing a major role in the recovery provided WSP the opportunity to rebuild the city using enhanced design and new technologies. However, design teams and architects faced new and unexpected challenges as the earthquakes changed the ground conditions, increased the water table, and destroyed historic buildings.

A shift in earthquake-resistant design

Reviewing the performance and failure of buildings in Canterbury has enabled the New Zealand construction industry to be at the forefront of new and advanced techniques, with seismic strengthening in mind. A great example is the use of low damage design, which was used by WSP on the Trimble Navigation Building.

Incorporating research from the University of Canterbury and the University of Auckland, the team identified low damage technology that would significantly reduce the risk of building damage through the dissipation of energy and controlled movement of the structure itself. Energy dissipating devices mounted to the exterior of the Trimble building absorb the energy released during a seismic event, and damping in the frames and walls help to create a more resilient structure. This project was the first of its kind in New Zealand, with the extensive use of riveted seismic connections. Instrumentation installed by Trimble monitors the building's ongoing performance to enable informed decisions on occupancy after a significant earthquake and allow informed maintenance decisions in the future.


After Trimble Navigation’s Christchurch office was destroyed by a fire in May 2011 following the February earthquake, our Architecture expertise was called upon to design and innovative and bespoke new building.

In designing the WSP building on Moorhouse Avenue, the WSP team used a viscous damper structure to improve the building's earthquake resilience. The lightweight structural steel frame and viscous damper design let the building move freely in seismic events and return to its original position with minimal damage to the building or disruption to the activities within. Instrumentation, which is fixed to the building measures and monitors how much movement the building undergoes in a seismic event and provides valuable research data.


The WSP building (formerly Opus House) combines next level technology with design excellence to create a landmark resilient building.

Rebuilding communities through shared space

The strength of resilience isn’t in the buildings but in the community. And the WSP Architecture Team took on several projects in which redesigning and rebuilding buildings also helped rebuild communities after the earthquakes.

One of the communities hit hardest by the Canterbury Earthquakes was the religious community. Churches – both the buildings and the people – were among some of the most affected, with a large percentage of the worst damaged public buildings in Christchurch and the surrounding suburbs being places of worship.

While some congregations made new arrangements to worship, decisions were made as to whether to demolish the worst-affected churches due to the high cost to restore or rebuild them to meet modern building codes. The St Albans Methodist Church sustained severe damage during the 4 September 2010 earthquake and was demolished in 2013. However, its demolition brought the congregation back together with the building of the new Chinese Methodist Church.


The Chinese Methodist Church is a practical response to post-earthquake rebuilds.

At the heart of WSP’s design for the Chinese Methodist Church is a modern place of worship that fits into its prominent location. With chapel space and seating for 250 people, the structure also includes a hall, administration offices, classrooms, and catering facilities. Its design not only emphasises the decoration of the chapel and entry, but it is also faithful to the structure of the building, which was achieved by the exposed laminated timber rafters as well as the appearance of the k-brace and frames. These elements have been interwoven into the fabric of the building to provide a scale, volume, and decoration that is fit for a place of worship.

There are often differing opinions about the value of the memories embodied in heritage buildings versus the benefits inherent with those made with modern materials and have a contemporary design. The earthquakes damaged some of Canterbury's best historic churches and saw the construction of many new ones, including St Patrick's Church in Lincoln.

St Patrick’s Church replaced an old church that sustained irreparable damage in the earthquakes. Working with an undamaged existing Parish Centre on the same site, which the Parish wished to retain, an important part of WSP's design was the integration of existing joinery, such as the pews and altar from the old church, which were reused and refurbished in keeping with the new church. The new church's traditional cruciform plan is a reminder of the building it replaced and the materials that were selected not only provide resilience to the structure but also draw on the enduring beauty of its natural finishes.


Badly damaged in the Canterbury Earthquakes, St Patrick’s Church in Lincoln provides a place of worship for over 200 parishioners. The integration of existing joinery played an important part in the new church’s design.

The reconstruction of Christchurch’s CBD

Christchurch’s Central Business District (CBD) has been hugely affected by the 2010/2011 earthquakes and continues to see high levels of construction to rebuild it.

A key focus of the Christchurch Blueprint is that people are placed at the centre of the redevelopment of the central city. Anchor Projects like the Avon River Precinct are breathing life back into the city, and new attractions like the Margaret Mahy Family Playground have been essential to Christchurch’s rebuild.


The Margaret Mahy Family Playground has brought laughter back into the city.

Representing one of the five key principles chosen by the community to rebuild Christchurch—play— the Margaret Mahy Family Playground has brought laughter back into the central city. This well-designed and vibrant space not only reflects the talents of our WSP Landscape Architecture Team, but highlights the value of architecture in bringing communities together through the good use of open, shared spaces.

The Justice and Emergency Precinct was another key anchor project in the rebuild and articulates the design aspirations of Christchurch’s Recovery Plan. The prominent 43,000m2 precinct was the largest multi-agency government co-location project in New Zealand, housing eight justice and emergency services agencies. Purpose-built to a 11.4 standard with 72-hour emergency operations resilience, the Precinct is the nerve centre for Canterbury’s management of a major emergency.


Design and construction complexity of the Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct was driven by the importance Level 4 (IL4) seismic standard required and the sophisticated bespoke agency requirements. Resilience, acoustic, security, communications, technology and building services requirements achieve standards and an integrated form quite unparalleled in New Zealand.

The Canterbury earthquakes irreparably damaged the existing court, Police and emergency services facilities in Christchurch. This triggered the design for a new, more efficient and effective combined facility. The materials used respond to the city’s architectural heritage, with an innovative use of stone elements and a variety of self-finishing materials in the internal spaces. The law court’s design breaks tradition by putting community interests over historical function and formality with its open, light and less forbidding form.

The apartment building at 118 Bealey Avenue provided WSP an opportunity to encourage visitors into the city and reinforces the importance and historical significance of this piece of land. The Bealey Avenue Apartments sit on the site of the former Marli, a Category 2 New Zealand Heritage Listed dwelling built by Percy Lewis Hallenstein in 1907. Severely damaged in the Canterbury Earthquakes, Marli was demolished in May 2011. Thoughtful consideration of the site context has influenced the building form to create a strong roofline reinforcing the street ‘edge’. Integrated energy efficiency was a key design objective and a design focus on structural resilience and low damage finishes were fundamental to the design and material selection.


The apartment building at 118 Bealey Avenue represented an opportunity to be part of the Christchurch rebuild and to help reinforce this important and historically significant Avenue.

The role of architects in creating resilience

The Canterbury Earthquakes have provided us with challenges that could only be overcome by creating better, smarter, and more resilient places and spaces for people to work, live and play. As our focus shifts to more sustainable practices, it emphasises the importance of building and urban resilience; and the vital role architects and design teams must play.


Duncan leads WSP’s Architecture Studio in Christchurch. He is passionate about delivering innovative design solutions and is a specialist in environmental design.

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