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Historic buildings likely to be toppled under post-quake law, PhD finds  

Dr Itohan Esther Aigwi.

Recent PhD research from Massey University shows that the Building Amendment Act 2016 provides more logical reasons for demolition of historical buildings than preservation. 

Dr Itohan Esther Aigwiwho recently graduated with a Doctor of Engineering, investigated  the impacts of the Building (earthquake-prone buildings) Amendment Act 2016 on the retention of historical buildings in New Zealand's provincial city centresparticularly in Invercargill and Whanganui. 

Following the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010/2011 the government introduced the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 to ensure safety and improve resilience of vulnerable buildings to future earthquakes 

Dr Aigwi says the legislation put a lot of pressure on historical building owners to decide on either strengthening or abandoning their buildingsThose who weren’t sure of return on investment in the seismic assessment and upgrade of their buildings, or who lack access to public funding through government incentives especially felt under pressure 

Consequently, many provincial cities in New Zealand are overwhelmed with so many abandoned earthquake-prone historical buildings in their city centres.” 

Dr Aigwi’s research highlights the many advantages historical buildings provide, including the conservation of the history and narration of a city’s existence, sustenance of the architectural history, shared cultural identity and significance of a place, economic viability through tourism, and an increased sense of belonging and attachment to a place. 

The study identified that in areas with ‘weaker-attachment-to-place’ there were logical arguments in the legislation for demolition while areas with ‘stronger-attachment-to-place’ found stronger reasons for conservation.  

Without any maintenance, the buildings, became eyesores for local communitiesHowever, Dr Aigwi notes that historic buildings potentially add a lot to the character of their towns. 

“If all buildings are demolished and replaced with modern buildings due to economic feasibility issues, the historic character of the buildings will be lost forever, and future generations cannot have this solid link to the past. 

Another motivation to invest in conserving historical buildings was being able to change the original use of earthquake-prone historical buildings.  

“From this I developed a performance-based framework that guided stakeholders to prioritise these earthquake-prone historical buildings for adaptive reuse.” 

Originally from Oza-Nogogo in Ika-South local government area of Delta State, Nigeria, and born and raised in the ancient city of Benin, Nigeria, Dr Aigwi said she thoroughly enjoyed travelling around New Zealand for her PhD. 

I really appreciated the stunning views and landscapes of New Zealand during those days of flying and driving around different cities in the North and South Islands of New Zealand.”  

Dr Aigwi says she met  great lifetime friends and colleagues during her studies at Massey University and encourages others to do a PhD.

They should shift their focus from just studying to get a PhD degree to solving real-life problemsIt’s much more satisfying.” 


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