WELLINGTON — Iconic Catholic churches in New Zealand will be
included in a study funded by the Earthquake Commission to assess
their vulnerability to earthquakes.
The two-year study, headed by Dr Sonia Giovinazzi, a research
fellow at the Civil and Natural Resources Engineering department of Canterbury University, will develop a seismic vulnerability index for the churches.
“This index is nothing more than a score. What it does is it
tells us how a church is going to behave in case of an earthquake: whether it will sustain damage or not, which kind of damage, which kind of collapse mechanism would be activated,” said Dr Giovinazzi.
Included in the study are St Gerard’s Church and Monastery in
Wellington, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch, St Patrick’s Basilica in Dunedin, St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland, as well as Dunedin’s cathedral, St
Joseph’s Basilica. Churches of other faiths will also be assessed.
She said the study will identify the weaknesses of the different
churches so protection can be put in place without retrofitting entire buildings.
Dr Giovinazzi said the main motivation of the study is to preserve New Zealand’s patrimony, and noted that churches are important to the communities.
“I’m a Catholic, as well. In Italy, that is the main religion. It is so important that after a disaster, we are able to go back to our church immediately,” she said.
“That’s really what binds the community. That is why we are really so keen that our churches are preserved and that they are safe, of course.”
The project started in January.
The group will look at the different parts of masonry and stone
churches, like the façade, lateral walls, domes and bell towers.
The vulnerability index will based on a similar model developed
in Europe, particularly in Italy, where there are thousands of
churches. Engineers have surveyed churches after earthquakes, looking at the damage to churches as well as studying where the weaknesses in the building were.
“Now, we have a model that can tell us if a church is at risk of
sustaining damage and how much damage it can sustain. When we determine what the weaknesses are, we can find the right solutions,” she said.
Dr Giovanazzi said the problem they are encountering at the
moment is the lack of information about the engineering and geometric designs of the old churches.
“It doesn’t look like in New Zealand there is such a thing, of
having an archive containing all the information about these churches.
Such a thing would be great. The NZ Historical Places Trust would
have some information, but not all,” she said.
She said it would be helpful if the individual churches had kept
that type of record and gave them access to those documents.
“If they have data about constructive details or geometrical, all
these kind of details that matter to engineers, that would be better,” she said.
At the least, they would like to have access to the buildings themselves to enable them to carry out the survey.