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Exciting times ahead for Civil Engineering

in New Zealand


Born and raised in Canada, Professor Pierre Quenneville developed a fascination with timber from a young age, largely due to the fact that his father was a carpenter by education and training. It was this interest from a young age that spurred what has become a long and varied career in engineering.


“Growing up we had the opportunity to go down to the basement of our home and work on the machines, there was this attraction to timber and to building things, and so Civil Engineering and structures came naturally to me.”


Following a term in the Canadian Armed Forces, Pierre began his academic career, obtaining his PhD in 1992. In 2007 he was invited to make the move to New Zealand to take up his current position as Civil Engineering Head of Department at the University of Auckland - a move that in his own words he “has not regretted at all”.


Pierre is enthusiastic about the growing level of collaboration between the University of Auckland and the University of Canterbury.


“It’s a very fortunate time in New Zealand for Civil and Structural Engineering, we’ve seen the rapport between Canterbury and Auckland become really strong. It’s nice to see this kind of collaboration between the two institutions, and this will certainly benefit New Zealand as a whole.”



With a recent move into new premises on the University’s burgeoning Newmarket campus, it is an exciting time for the UoA Engineering department. The new building houses the department’s structures testing laboratory for the Civil department, and it also has the capacity to house all of its PhD students and a number of staff, with room for expansion. The combination of testing facilities, staff offices and student facilities all within the same space has been beneficial, but as Pierre says, the new lab facility, known as the ‘Test Hall’, is the real icing on the cake.


“The key feature of the new facility is the space, and the magnitude of the range and diversity of the full scale testing we can do. It consists of a strong floor, strong walls and sufficient height and lifting capability for us to test up to three storey full scale structures.”


Pierre describes the Test Hall as their ‘cathedral’, due to its size and the ambiance it creates. It offers researchers enough space to be able to undertake a number of projects at one time.


“We can apply full-scale loading to very big concrete structures, and this allows us to replicate realistic situations of full structural elements and systems. It really is world class, and it’s nice to have those features.”


As Pierre points out, there are extremely practical benefits to the innovative Earthquake Engineering research being carried out at both Universities.


“In New Zealand we’re lucky, whether it’s in Auckland, or in Canterbury, the problems that we’re tackling are practical problems. We can adopt these measures here, or adopt them outside of New Zealand and compete in the engineering world. It’s all about preventing damage and minimising business disruption - and this is certainly becoming more and more critical here in New Zealand.”


With the department now firmly settled into its new home base and these exciting new developments in the research being carried out in its facilities, it is easy to see how Pierre maintains the same level of enthusiasm that first drew him to engineering as a child.


“The exciting thing is the creative process. We all love to create; we love to come up with clever ideas to solve engineering problems. If these solutions can then be put on the market and go on to benefit New Zealand and the rest of the world, then that’s an added bonus.”













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