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Earthquake simulations safeguard heritage buildings in Adelaide


A University of Adelaide project is simulating the impacts of earthquakes on some of the city’s oldest buildings to test their structural integrity.

Using a specially constructed wall, civil engineers from the University conduct earthquake simulation tests to determine the best structural protection methods for heritage sites in Adelaide.

The project is being funded by the Australia Research Council.

“We want to prevent catastrophic damage to special historic structures such as St Peter’s Cathedral and many similarly important heritage buildings in Adelaide and across the country,” said Professor Michael Griffith from the University of Adelaide’s School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering.

“The first step in the process is to know how strong the existing structures are, so we have built a wall that replicates the kind of masonry that is found in historic buildings.

“We are testing the wall in our lab by putting it under high vertical loads and pushing it horizontally to simulate the movement that would be caused by an earthquake.”

The simulation data will be studied by structural engineers and architects who will be tasked with seismically strengthening heritage structures.

According to the University, there is more than a 10 per cent chance Adelaide will be hit with a damaging earthquake in the next 50 years.

A magnitude 5.6 earthquake 12km south of Adelaide damaged the walls of houses and cracked the city’s main post office in 1954.

With all of Australia’s heritage-listed unreinforced brick and stone masonry buildings built before the development of earthquake-resistant buildings, seismic strengthening is necessary.

“To withstand collapse, buildings need to redistribute the forces that travel through them during a seismic event,” Griffith said.

He added that some state-owned sites have not received seismic strengthening.

“While some of the most important state-owned buildings have received some seismic strengthening, many of the others have not.

“Shear walls, cross braces, diaphragms, and moment-resisting frames are central to reinforcing a building.

“We have inserted a steel frame to strengthen the lantern over the main transept of St Peter’s Cathedral and bracing into parts of the roof, neither of which compromise the aesthetics of the building. We are planning to carry out on-site testing to assess the effectiveness of further proposed measures.

“We do not want to gamble with our built heritage,” Griffith said. “Properly protecting it now is better than losing it forever.”

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