Tales from Sabbatical – Kristi Greer

Posted by on Jun 12, 2020 in Architecture

Tales from Sabbatical – Kristi Greer

I was delighted to be offered a sabbatical from GLM to take a period of leave to join my partner in his home country, New Zealand. After years of immersing myself in studying, training, and becoming a well-established project architect I was looking forward to extended time off and turning on my “Out of Office”.

When I first arrived in Taupo, feeling a strange mix of weariness following my 30 hour journey and eagerness to explore my new hometown, it immediately struck me that most of the houses were single storey. The beauty of the lake and surrounding scenery could not be overlooked but I was incredibly aware of the single storey height of Taupo in comparison to the taller buildings forming Edinburgh’s skyline.

Most of the housing in Taupo was constructed during the 1960s. State housing was the biggest influence on New Zealand housing from the 1940s to the late 1960s and were designed so that no two houses would be exactly alike to avoid the appearance of mass produced government housing. Most were single storey detached houses with a rectangular floor plan and hipped roof, with weatherboard as the quintessential exterior cladding, made of timber, fibre-cement, PVC or metal claddings in various profiles, colours and finishes.

New Zealand has a great climate well suited to outdoor living and houses are generally designed for indoor-outdoor flow with large areas of glazing. More recently there has been a shift towards simpler design and environmentally sustainable and responsive solutions. Sustainability is becoming increasingly important to enhance energy efficiency, use renewable resources, and ensure that buildings utilise the natural environment. In addition, New Zealand must consider sustainable design in relation to durability, longevity and reparability so that buildings are resilient and better able to withstand the range of damaging effects caused by an earthquake.

New Zealand sits on two tectonic plates and the capital city, Wellington, sits on major fault lines with one of those only 400m from the parliament buildings. Parliament House, first occupied in 1918, and Parliament Library, built in 1883-1899, are classed as heritage buildings and there was concern that these masonry buildings with minimal lateral resistance could collapse in a moderate earthquake. In 1992 a strengthening project was undertaken to separate the buildings from their original foundations and place them on base isolators to protect the building from earthquake movement.

Base isolator bearings were invented and developed in the 1970s in New Zealand by Dr William Robinson and consist of alternating layers of high density rubber with steel plates and a solid inner lead core. During an earthquake energy generated softens the lead allowing up to 30cm horizontal movement each way which would otherwise be transferred as movement to the building.

We took a tour of parliament, but it was the last 5 minutes that really interested me as It was possible to see a strengthened foundation with its base isolator. 417 base isolators were placed within the existing foundations at load bearing locations under Parliament House and the Parliamentary Library. Extensive strengthening was required to the existing basement and ground floor to redistribute wall loads, and supporting walls were added to prevent twisting movements during earthquakes. The strengthened buildings mean there is much less risk of damage to the buildings or injury to the people in them.

It was clear to see the devastation caused by an earthquake when we arrived in Christchurch which was hit by an earthquake in 2011 resulting in the loss of lives and severe damage to buildings. Almost 10 years later the city is still recovering with condemned, unhabitable buildings damaged beyond repair, buildings propped and supported as they wait for demolition, piles of rubble, and vacant sites where buildings once stood. The Cardboard Cathedral by Architect Shigeru Ban was erected in 2013 to temporarily replace the city cathedral which was significantly damaged during the earthquake. The Cardboard Cathedral has a triangular profile constructed from 98 equally sized cardboard tubes and has an expected lifespan of 50 years.

I worked as a kitchen designer while living overseas and on my way to work I would often pass a house secured on the rear of a flatbed lorry. Relocating existing heritage homes and prefabricated transportable homes is popular in New Zealand where “moving house” had a slightly different meaning to what I’m accustomed.

It is a common for heritage homes to be relocated in favour of their architectural character and native hardwood timber construction that new prefabricated homes do not offer. The relocation homes were often dilapidated, but it was pleasing to see that they had been retained and were on their way to a new site where they could be renovated.

Prefabricated homes are built in a controlled environment for efficiency in construction time, resulting in less waste, and offer higher quality and consistency due to factory tolerances and workmanship. The building consents, building site, foundations and services are prepared in advance of the house arriving. The prefabricated house arrives with installed plumbing and electrical systems, kitchen and sanitaryware, finished internally with ironmongery and hardware and can even include the toilet roll holder! I was surprised to hear from a friend that his 18m long house was arriving by a route that quite frankly I didn’t enjoy driving in our camper van.

I had the most incredible time exploring and admiring natures architecture in New Zealand. I returned to GLM refreshed and eager to resume my role with a different appreciation of our built environment in Scotland.

David Johnson, Operations Director, commented on Kristi’s time on sabbatical “Whilst it was a big loss for GLM to be without Kristi for 18 months we fully supported her in this adventure, aware of the positive experience a sabbatical can have on any member of a team. An experience that will undoubtedly have left an indelible mark on her life and one that we hope will rub off on the rest of us as she shares new learnings, perspectives and insights from literally the other side of the world. Welcome home Kristi. It’s great to have you back.”

Now I am back in Scotland and despite lockdown I am looking forward to catching up and reconnecting so if you want to get in touch with me why not send an e-mail (kristi.greer@weareglm.com) or connect on LinkedIn.

Kristi Greer

Architect, Associate Director