Rescue Mission

Structural Performance is a valuable lesson in how we can save treasured buildings and lives.

Rescue Mission

Structural Performance is a valuable lesson in how we can save treasured buildings and lives.

In his new book, internationally acclaimed seismic and structural engineering expert Dr Dmytro Dizhur marks the 10th anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake and documents the city’s rich history through the lens of its architecture.

It’s 12.50pm on 22 February 2011. In just one minute, the lives of Christchurch locals is going to change drastically. At the next jolt of the clock’s long hand, an earthquake rattles the earth. What ensues is 10 seconds of chaos. People are knocked off their feet. Historic buildings – already bearing some form of damage from the September 2010 earthquake – collapse. And, most tragically, 185 lives are lost. 

I was on one of the first flights into Christchurch to assist with the post-earthquake emergency damage assessment of buildings. I witnessed a city destroyed beyond recognition and quickly realised the long-term implications: the history of Christchurch – even New Zealand – had changed forever. 

Starting in March 2011, I guided a team of international masonry experts and researchers to document and interpret the earthquake damage to approximately 650 historic masonry buildings. More than 90 percent of those buildings were later demolished. 

From an engineering standpoint, the dataset of damage that occurred is incredibly valuable. It allowed us to better understand the earthquake performance of masonry buildings when strengthened using various techniques. We identified a range of failure patterns, successful retrofits, and documented other common mechanisms behind building outcomes. As an example, in a sample of three similar old brick buildings in central Christchurch, the only one still standing strong after the earthquake had been quake strengthened before 2011. The assessment turned into a mammoth 10-year research project that I conducted alongside other national and international experts. It has wide-ranging implications: we can reduce earthquake destruction in the future.

Structural Performance informs industry professionals, structural engineering and architectural students how to best safeguard brick buildings during future retrofit projects. However, I simplified the technical knowledge to fulfill my secondary ambitions for the text: to document Christchurch’s rich history through the lens of its architecture and to reach a wider audience to increase public awareness of how we can achieve a safer building environment.  

My hope is that the observations in the book will guide future strengthening designs, preserve much-loved historic buildings, and help save precious lives in New Zealand and internationally.

Since the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, I’ve dedicated my career to the seismic preservation of historically and culturally significant masonry structures, both here and internationally. I always focus on the same issue: saving lives. 

Structural Performance by Dr Dmytro Dizhur is available from

All profits will fund research scholarships into making our heritage architecture safer. 


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