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Tectonus: Building seismic resilience

Initiative type:
Start-up
Sector:
Engineering
Website:
UniServices Contact:

Opportunity

The devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake killed 185 people and resulted in more than 70 percent of buildings in the central business district having to be destroyed along with thousands of homes.

Buildings are designed to withstand the vertical force of gravity but they’re much more vulnerable to the side-to-side forces of earthquakes. Traditional ways of making buildings earthquake-resistant involve making them stiffer and stronger, but this has its limits. Newer methods involve designing buildings to move with the shaking – however, these are still imperfect, tending to require plenty of carbon-intensive materials and costly post-earthquake repair.

Professor Pierre Quenneville of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, and Pouyan Zarnani, at the time a postdoctoral fellow in the same department, figured there had to be a better way.

Buildings that re-centre themselves

Quenneville and Zarnani developed a device that dampens movement and self-centres all in one, allowing occupants to safely re-enter buildings soon after the earthquake is over.

The pair started Tectonus after winning the grand prize in the 2015 run by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. UniServices went on to support the company with an early-stage investment and advisory services. 

“What makes the Tectonus products different to others is that they are designed to withstand numerous earthquakes and aftershocks and continue to protect the structure without downtime,” says Quenneville, who is now Chief Technical Officer while Zarnani is Senior Director of Innovation.

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Pierre Quenneville and Andy van Houtte
“What makes the Tectonus products different to others is that they are designed to withstand numerous earthquakes and aftershocks and continue to protect the structure without downtime.”
Pierre Quenneville,
Co-founder and CTO, Tectonus (on left)

The company’s products include devices that enable structural elements to move and come back together, walls that can rock and resettle, and braces and frames that dampen movement and self-centre. Tectonus has also developed seismic tank anchors, which protect storage tanks in industries such as dairy, wine, water and energy while enabling taller and lighter tanks to be built.

The company’s devices go well with timber structures, which have a lower carbon footprint than other types of buildings. They also reduce the need to repair and rebuild structures after an earthquake, a carbon-intensive and costly endeavour.

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Performance

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Tectonus has won numerous including being named a finalist in the 2017 New Zealand Innovation Awards, winning the 2019 Trans-Tasman Innovation and Growth Awards, and in 2020, being a finalist in the NZ Hi-Tech Awards.

Tectonus’s first project was the new Nelson Airport Terminal, which features high timber columns and beams that showcase the company’s technology. Since then, the company has delivered more than 20 projects, including the Hutt Valley Health Hub, Christchurch Cathedral College and the Yealands wine tanks in New Zealand, as well as the Fast + Epp office building in Canada. More projects are in the works in New Zealand and Canada. In April 2022, Tectonus raised NZ$8 million to accelerate its global expansion.

“Our earthquake protection technology can save communities and businesses billions of dollars in economic losses that result from a seismic event.”

Carl Beck, CEO

“Right now, Tectonus is on the edge of rapid international growth,” said CEO Carl Beck. “Our earthquake protection technology can save communities and businesses billions of dollars in economic losses that result from a seismic event.”

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