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Toy inspires Wellington building

A Wellington New Zealand building has been designed with an earthquake protection mechanism inspired by a child’s ‘push puppet toy’. Source:

Massey University’s new creative arts building has a post-tensioned timber seismic frame held together by sturdy steel cables. This frame flexes during earthquakes, before coming back to rest in its original form.

University of Canterbury testing, which was completed on the design shows the building is likely withstand an earthquake of the same proportions as the February 2011 quake in Christchurch.

One of its engineers, Dunning Thornton Consultants director Alistair Cattanach, likens the design to a child’s wooden toy – where when you push the bottom, the parts connected by cords move independently then spring back into place.

“The idea is that if they rock, the energy is absorbed into specific devises of the building,” said Cattanach.

The walls, floors and ceilings would flex more than in an ordinary building, but they would then settle back rather than rupturing and creating damage.

The Athfield Architects designed building took a year to come to fruition. It was an environmentally friendly structure that heats easily on cold days and cools on hot days.

“It is the first time it has been done in a timber frame in the world. It’s not easy doing things the first time,” said Cattanach.

The building is called Te Ara Hihiko and will be formally opened by Sir Richard Taylor on 22 June 2012.