Justice & Emergency Services Precinct

Staring down a massive seismic challenge

When the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 tore into Canterbury, New Zealand, a huge amount of the vital civic infrastructure was lost or stretched well beyond capacity. One of the priorities in the huge rebuild of Christchurch was one of the most ambitious developments anywhere in the world, in the context of a region with extreme seismic conditions. The Justice and Emergency Services Precinct was the first major development the Government undertook in the aftermath of earthquakes. It’s the first multi-agency government co-location in New Zealand’s history and a major challenge, not only on the technical front—this was a development with a huge number of stakeholders, and a very expectant public.

The structure brings together all the region’s critical services, including the Ministry of Justice, New Zealand Police, Department of Corrections, Fire and Emergency New Zealand, St John New Zealand, and the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, to name a few—and accommodates an estimated 2,000 workers daily. The precinct consists of four, four-storey towers, supported on a common base isolated podium structure which is designed to mitigate structural and non-structural damage following a major earthquake to ensure continued functionality of the facility. The Emergency Operations Centre located in the Emergency Services Building is the centre for emergency response and coordination in the event of a natural disaster. Design of an Emergency Communications Centre (effectively a nationwide 111/000/911 call centre) was also required to have continuous occupation and operation in the event of a fire within any other part of the building.

Holmes provided both the structural design for the precinct and the general fire engineering services, as well as advanced structural fire analyses. From a structural perspective, the building has stringent requirements of structural robustness for seismic and fire resistance. The talented team helped the client verify the operational continuity of their mechanical plant, using our own shake table to test samples.

Our team worked on the project right across the five-year design and construction period—with the right experts called in at the right times. This continuity of service typifies Holmes’ approach to major projects and allowed the Ministry of Justice to achieve a fantastic result through the continuity and specific expertise of a well-connected and collaborative design and consultancy team. This extremely challenging design brief came to life in a striking, highly functional structure that is a vital part of the region’s infrastructure.