David Hopkins Photo Mar17

David C Hopkins

David C Hopkins
David Hopkins Consulting Limited, Auckland


Improving earthquake resilience of New Zealand buildings. Who cares?

David C Hopkins1
David Hopkins Consulting Limited, Auckland

The overall performance of buildings in the Canterbury and Kaikoura Earthquakes is a cause for concern to the whole community.  In Christchurch City most buildings were demolished even though they had kept people safe.  The Kaikoura Earthquake saw unexpectedly serious damage to buildings with precast floors and costly damage to finishes in other buildings, notably in modern flexible multi-storey buildings.

There is a worldwide call for more resilient cities. The impacts of the Canterbury and Kaikoura Earthquakes are both a wake-up call and an opportunity to implement fundamental changes in the structural design of buildings in New Zealand. We need buildings that perform much better in earthquake than buildings designed and built to the current minimum standards.  This means buildings that are safe, that suffer low damage overall and that have short repair times.

To achieve this, all aspects affecting building performance in earthquake (community expectations, codes, standards, design, consenting, procurement and construction) need to be reviewed at a fundamental level.  All stakeholder groups need to be involved.

These stakeholders include structural engineers, owners and developers, tenants and users, financiers, insurers, central government agencies, local government agencies and politicians (Mayors, City and Borough Councillors, Government Ministers and Members of Parliament). The paper examines the contribution structural engineering can make to improved resilience and concludes that each stakeholder group has a vital role to play in helping structural engineers to deliver more resilient buildings.

Only by concerted and co-operative action can we achieve real progress to improve the resilience of New Zealand buildings and cities.  This will require a major shift in thinking, attitudes and practice – driven by leaders in each group.


Dr David Hopkins studied under Professors Bob Park and Tom Paulay and was the prime mover in establishing the Park and Paulay Fund at the University of Canterbury.

David has over 40 years’ experience as a consulting engineer in technical, management, business development and governance roles including in a major multi-discipline consultancy. Since 2001 he has specialized in earthquake risk management including making numerous assessments of earthquake damage to major assets for insurance purposes. From 2003 to 2014 he was a key advisor to New Zealand’s central government building regulation authority on structural and earthquake engineering issues.

Dr Hopkins was the only technical member of the Canterbury Earthquakes Recovery Commission after the 4 September 2010 Earthquake and helped lead the Christchurch City Council’s Critical Buildings Team after the earthquake of 22 February 2011. He managed the Department of Building and Housing investigations into the collapse of the CTV building, drafted the Expert Panel Report and briefed the media, survivors and next-of-kin on technical aspects.

For the MBIE-led Built Environment Lessons for Leaders Forum held in April 2016, David interviewed 23 leaders of the Canterbury Earthquake response and prepared a key briefing paper. Since 2012, with EQC support, he has led the development and promotion of QuakeStar, a rating system for New Zealand buildings.