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The Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-2012 have trigged a reappraisal of building policy and regulation – both for new buildings and existing buildings. This reappraisal is influenced by the recommendations of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission and currently being implemented by the earthquake-prone policy review of the Building Act 2004.
Earthquakes, war and other disastrous events cause trauma for affected communities. This trauma influences what types of heritage is preserved (and memorialised) as opposed to those places that are actively forgotten. Often the effect of historical trauma can last many years after the disastrous event. As described by Susanne Jaeger, in Germany ‘more historical monuments were lost as result of urban rebuilding and modernisation between 1945 and 1975 than of the war itself.
The historic Wellington earthquake experience took place at the early phase of European settlement and had a formative impact on the life and townscape of early Wellington. Many hundreds of buildings survived the 1848 and 1855 earthquakes with minor damage except for the loss of chimneys. Only a few of these buildings, however, have survived since 1855. The few remaining pre-1855 buildings are a special and unique collection associated with early Wellington history, its people and early building techniques.
Despite the dominance of timber-framed buildings in the pre and post-1855 period, concern about fire risk triggered new building regulations in the Wellington CBD and influenced the construction of a large number of unreinforced masonry buildings (URM) after 1870. The new large civic and commercial buildings eventually became the heritage of Wellington’s future.
This paper reviews the impact of the 1848 and1855 earthquakes on public attitudes relating to heritage buildings in Wellington. Earthquakes and the risk of fire have influenced Wellington’s historic townscape and have developed perceptions of heritage value. Recalling Wellington’s earthquake experience of 1848 and 1855 can also make a valuable contribution towards current building policy and regulation.