Adaptation Through Te Ao Māori

Finding opportunity in adaptation

Our climate is changing. How we approach and adapt to the meet the unpredictable is a key focus for WSP.

What we know is that effective adaptation requires an understanding of how risks interact as a starting point. Decisions should be based on careful consideration of the cross-cutting nature of risks, and the trade-offs between the actions that we take.

Here we look at how climate change is reshaping the New Zealand summer, the tools we’re using to predict the impact it will have and the opportunities it presents – if we’re prepared to change our mindset.

Climate change and its impacts on the land, water and people are most often viewed through a scientific, Western worldview lens. WSP worked with the Tāmaki Makaurau Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Forum, to help them form a climate change position from a Te Ao Māori perspective.

The Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Forum is a collective of the 19 hapū and iwi authorities with indigenous connections to Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) land and sea. WSP’s work shaped the Forum’s strategic position and vision to
drive climate action. The resulting report informed the development of Auckland’s Climate Action Plan.

While climate change will affect everyone, many Māori communities and whānau are particularly vulnerable. Current challenges are likely to be exacerbated as climate change impacts intensify and disrupt the economy. Whānau who are already in a precarious financial position, have less access to resources to respond to rapidly worsening conditions. Hard won financial advances that some iwi, hapū and whānau have achieved over recent decades may be lost as the economy is pushed into rapid and significant change if precautionary action isn’t taken. Furthermore, coastal erosion and floods are causing irreparable damage to sacred sites, with many marae built on low-lying land. Māna whenua are considering how to protect or relocate marae, urupā, and wāhi tapu that will be exposed to flooding. Communities are also focussed on protecting the indigenous flora and fauna that will be threatened by a changing environment, particularly where change is so significant and rapid that species cannot adapt, or are overrun by invasive species.

Climate change is an indicator, highlighting how our past and current lifestyles are not in the best interest of our future. Tāmaki Makaurau has not been looking after its environment or the future of its people; it cannot cope with further development of the type of growth witnessed so far. The Forum has identified a need for kaitiakitanga and social outcomes to be a required condition in all investment decisions, to ensure that money is not available for unsustainable initiatives and activities.

WSP’s Rowan Dixon, Troy Brockbank and Michelle Chan worked on the project alongside Māna Whenua, which provided a unique experience to weave together Te Ao Māori and climate science. Brockbank says the project was a rangapū based on transparency, commitment, compassion and humility.

“The partnership helped the Forum develop their initial climate change position paper Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri. This was an important step in bringing together a Te Ao Māori perspective, integrated with an understanding of adaptation and mitigation”.

“Our people at WSP share close social ties that bind us to the places we work. This ensures our culture and values reflect and deliver for indigenous peoples and communities. Through our rangapū with the Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Forum, and embedding sustainable knowledge systems into our work, WSP is helping to pave the way towards a dynamic, future-focused Auckland.”

Troy Brockbank

Troy Brockbank (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi) is Kaitohutohu Matua Taiao / Senior Environmental Consultant with WSP. He has real passion and ability for water sensitive design, in particular solutions to protect and restore the quality of waterways and the environment and considers himself an intermediary, having the advantage of seeing aspects from both an engineering and a Te Ao Māori world view.

Dr Rowan Dixon is Principal Professional Sustainability and Resilience at WSP. His experience spans international trade, environment and climate negotiations policy development and implementation, including carbon, biodiversity and community development and conservation projects, and the valuation of natural and social
capital offsets.

Michelle Chan is a Resource Management Planner at WSP. Her expertise includes urban design and planning, resource consents and social impact assessments.

Preparing for the Unpredictable: Adapting agriculture to meet the climate

Finding opportunity in adaptation

Our climate is changing. How we approach and adapt to the meet the unpredictable is a key focus for WSP.

What we know is that effective adaptation requires an understanding of how risks interact as a starting point. Decisions should be based on careful consideration of the cross-cutting nature of risks, and the trade-offs between the actions that we take.

Here we look at how climate change is reshaping the New Zealand summer, the tools we’re using to predict the impact it will have and the opportunities it presents – if we’re prepared to change our mindset.

Ensuring nutritious, safe and affordable food supply for a growing global population is a key challenge for many nations and New Zealand’s role in this supply chain is no exception.

Variations in rainfall, temperature, drought, wind patterns, fluctuations in sea level, conditions that allow weeds, pests and microbes to flourish and changes in atmospheric CO2 or ozone level – all associated with climate change – pose a risk to agriculture.

Whether plant or animal based, all food production ultimately needs soil derived nutrients, atmospheric carbon dioxide and sunshine. Yield reliability is almost entirely linked to consistency of water supply for plant growth.

A western diet, often high in sugars, fats and animal-based protein takes in the order of 1-1.2 hectares per person of land to grow the ingredients. By comparison, a subsistence diet based on grains takes closer to 0.2ha to feed a person; realistically this is only to a level above famine classification.

New Zealand has about 14 million hectares of land with high production potential, and a low population which is approaching 5 million people. This means New Zealand’s land and water resources can, and do, support food supply to millions of consumers around the world as well as sustaining internally.

With the New Zealand Government’s announced proposal to recognise and protect our most fertile and versatile land and its action for healthy waterways policy there has been increased discussion about land and water availability for food production. Those conversations sit squarely in the decisions around adaptation to climate change and how future weather patterns may affect food production land suitability.

With changing climate conditions, we may see crop production rates and efficiency of resource use climb; new crops previously unseen in some regions may emerge in response to increased temperature, rainfall and available carbon dioxide.

There are now some successful plantings of bananas in Northland and some interest in coffee, albeit at trial levels. Both products are normally grown in the tropical Pacific Islands or northern Queensland and Africa.

Conversely, we may see a decline in some temperate crops as suitable climate zones move away from areas that become hotter and drier. Plants such as kiwifruit require cold winters, so higher temperatures in growing regions would have a massive impact.

The draft National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL) proposes a nationwide approach to protecting our most productive food producing areas from urban sprawl to ensure there’s enough land available for primary production now and in the future.

In a country with abundant natural freshwater resources, incorporating productive land use within catchments through careful harvesting of enough water for reliable food production, and the protection of natural water bodies from contamination is a fine balance that needs to be driven by sound science and human centric inputs. Our food production industry is heavily investing in this and is on the pathway to be recognised as one of the most sustainable in the world.

WSP’s work in the agriculture sector is focused on the establishment and operation of water storage and distribution infrastructure, and how management of nutrients and sediments can be improved through adoption of good environmental management practices.

Stephen McNally is Head of Primary Industries. He leads WSP’s sector focus on food security delivered within scarce resources, irrigation infrastructure, technology innovation and agriculture’s interaction with the environment and community.

Preparing for the Unpredictable: How do we adapt to increased flooding?

Finding opportunity in adaptation

Our climate is changing. How we approach and adapt to the meet the unpredictable is a key focus for WSP.

What we know is that effective adaptation requires an understanding of how risks interact as a starting point. Decisions should be based on careful consideration of the cross-cutting nature of risks, and the trade-offs between the actions that we take.

Here we look at how climate change is reshaping the New Zealand summer, the tools we’re using to predict the impact it will have and the opportunities it presents – if we’re prepared to change our mindset.

In recent summers, we’ve experienced storms of varying magnitudes, and this is just a taste of things to come. In our changing climate, we anticipate more frequent and extreme weather events; WSP are helping our clients understand the pace of change and its consequences.

Climate change industry practice in New Zealand, both scientific and planning, refers to flooding with ‘deep uncertainty’. However, there is a great deal of information that we can gather and interpret to better understand the risks.

Over the last few years thinking has shifted from dealing reactively with an emergency response, to acknowledging the need to take a pro-active planning approach.

Preparedness relies on understanding the risk of flooding and using this to make operational decisions; planning for an emergency response, allowing for recovery and repair, and developing a strategy to deal with future events. To address this, we use tools to understand the likelihood of a flood event and predict the performance of existing infrastructure under that inundation or erosion.

Computational modelling of flood and erosion is rapidly developing. We can now model fluvial (from rivers), pluvial (from stormwater systems), coastal inundation, dam/stopbank breach and groundwater flooding. These models can predict the depth, extent, velocity and duration of the inundations that result from a range of storms. These can be singular predictions, or combined effects of rainfall, wind, wave action and storm surge. With this information, outputs can be tailored.

We apply hydrological and geomorphological understanding with published climate science to develop a range of input parameters and statistical analysis to understand a range of different magnitude historic and future storm events. We can also identify extreme parameters to stress test existing or proposed infrastructure across a range of scenarios.

Recently we’ve developed probabilistic models for erosion risk that can test sensitivity to a range of uncertainties in the base model. This produces suites of output files that provide more than just a line on a plan. A visual representation of a range of future scenarios can provide more information on which to base strategic and operational decisions.

Once the likelihood of a range of future events is determined, we can better understand the likely performance of existing (or proposed) infrastructure. At the moment, this management of flood risk isn’t well understood or practiced in New Zealand, but it’s critical.

We’ve interpreted flooding in the following ways:

Emergency management decision making – assessment of the risk posed from waves coming over the top of a breakwater, causing a danger to the public safety (pedestrians and vehicles). Assessment of the loading on, and likely stability of, infrastructure adjacent to the coast.

Maintenance required post event – likely damage to infrastructure during a flood event (including movement of rocks within the revetment, undermining concrete structures, scour to vegetated slopes). Effect of exposure to saltwater (corrosion issues) or inundation with floodwater
(repair/clean-up costs, disruption to service for electrical equipment). Consideration of water quality associated with potentially contaminated stormwater.

Strategic decision making – Assessment of the financial damages of flooding including disruption, clean-up and repair costs. Combination of the likelihood and consequence to assist development of a business case for risk management investment.

Granted, there is uncertainty associated with climate change, but we aren’t powerless. There’s a lot we can do to help understand the likelihood and consequence of flooding which can be used to make informed decisions.

Matt Balkham is Head of Water Resources and Flood Risk Management. He looks after WSP’s stormwater, flood risk management and coastal risk management business.

Preparing for the Unpredictable: How do we adapt our thinking?

Finding opportunity in adaptation

Our climate is changing. How we approach and adapt to the meet the unpredictable is a key focus for WSP.

What we know is that effective adaptation requires an understanding of how risks interact as a starting point. Decisions should be based on careful consideration of the cross-cutting nature of risks, and the trade-offs between the actions that we take.

Here we look at how climate change is reshaping the New Zealand summer, the tools we’re using to predict the impact it will have and the opportunities it presents – if we’re prepared to change our mindset.

WSP has been exploring deeply how our clients and the communities they serve can prepare and adapt for the future climate. As the days lengthen and temperatures rise, our thoughts turn to what the summers of the future might look like.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and NIWA, predict more frequent extreme weather events, prolonged periods of extreme heat, and the increased risk of drought in New Zealand. The time lag between increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, and their impact on climate and weather patterns means that change is already with us. Even if global efforts to decrease carbon dioxide emissions succeed, we must prepare.

Climate model outputs are based on emissions scenarios – the IPCC explored four pathways; the optimistic RCP 2.6 that expects near term efforts at mitigation to succeed in reducing and maintaining CO2 below current levels; two stabilisation scenarios (RCP 4.5 and RCP 6); and the chillingly termed ‘business as usual’ scenario, RCP 8.5, which assumes limited reduction in global fossil fuel use and consequent increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, current mitigation efforts make the higher emission scenarios much more likely.

Models of all the RCP scenarios have outcomes which change weather patterns and the climate in New Zealand. If we assume we are tracking in line with RCP 2.6, then we might expect that average annual temperatures will increase by at least 0.7°C by 2040, with greater impacts at higher elevations. Tracking towards RCP 8.5 will result in up to 3°C increase by 2090, with significant impacts on our urban, rural, and natural habitats. Everything will change.

Equally important is the frequency of hot days, defined as those with temperature above 25°C. The most optimistic scenarios predict 40% more hot days by 2040, with up to 100% more hot days by 2090. The number of dry days are also expected to increase, particularly in the north and east of the North Island, and inland in the South, resulting in dry areas becoming even drier still.

Knowing the consequences of these changes in climate and weather patterns, and exploring questions to account for unexpected outcomes has become an essential part of business planning. With an increase in summer temperatures it is anticipated that demand for electricity will grow with higher air conditioning usage. Longer and hotter summers will increase the number of people suffering from heat-related illness.
Design approaches will need to mitigate heat exposure and cool areas in a cost-effective manner; incorporating natural solutions will be key. Interventions such as greening roads, and using trees to provide shade in pedestrian areas and parks will ensure that people will still be able to enjoy outside spaces, in both urban and suburban environments. Trees clean our air and provide microclimates which will also help to combat urban heat island effects.

While these are practical solutions, we also need to change our strategic thinking. Our communities now expect greater proactive action on all fronts, as evidenced by the environmental protest activity we have witnessed this year.

Zoe Burkitt is Work Group Manager – Archaeology and Heritage. She has a strong scientific interest in trends in sustainability and climate change, and their impacts on global policy.

New Zealand’s Shifting Cityscapes: Queenstown

A tourism surge in New Zealand is driving massive investment in hotels, as the industry prepares to meet the demand of an additional 1.28 million visitors by 2024.

MBIE estimates that international visitor arrivals will grow from 3.13 million in 2015 to 4.51 million by 2022, reaching 5 million in 2025. Growth is being driven by major events and business activities, fuelled by the potential of proposed convention facilities in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.

Here we look at how Queenstown, arguably the jewel of our country’s thriving tourism industry, is preparing.

Queenstown feels the love

Tourism in Queenstown is booming, and the region needs an additional 1,170 hotel rooms by 2024 to keep up with demand.

With construction either underway or pending approval, Queenstown is on track to have around 3,000 beds added to the supply. Presently, two large scale hotels are under construction (368 rooms), eight hotels have been approved (1,016 rooms) and a further eight hotels are undergoing the consenting process (1,715 rooms).

Industry figures from 2016 show that 2% of hotel room nights were spent in 3-star establishments within New Zealand, 14% spent in 3.5-star, 22% in 4-star, 45% in 4.5-star and 16% in 5-star.

Two thirds of our tourist market originate from China and Australia; catering to these preferences is crucial. Based on current trends in behaviour, 4.5-star hotels are most popular across all markets, with the exception of the Chinese market which currently prefers 4-star.

How will Queenstown afford it?

Jim Boult, Mayor of Queenstown Lakes District Council, says there are challenges facing the town of 24,000 permanent residents which supports more than three million visitors a year. This figure equates to 34 visitors for every resident.

Spending on infrastructure is critical to the economic success of the district, to meet the needs and expectations of both the local community and visitors. However, the cost of providing services for visitors in the 2018-2028 long-term plan has been estimated at $374 million.

To help ease the burden on ratepayers, a visitor levy has been proposed, most likely a bed tax on short-term accommodation including providers such as Airbnb. It is hoped the levy, which could be in place by 2021, will raise between $25m and $40m annually.

WSP is involved in several of the hotel projects in Queenstown. Peter O’Leary, Head of Structures, is excited about the innovative and internationally-influenced spaces that are being delivered.

Consumers drive eco-design

Peter is particularly excited about the trend towards healthy and environmentally friendly spaces through the adoption of eco-design principals.

The number of consumers wanting eco-friendly options increased by 36% between 2016 and 2018
(Hotel Designs, 2018). Unsurprisingly, this has also influenced travel preferences too. In its annual Sustainability Travel Report, reported that 73% of travellers worldwide intend to stay in eco-friendly or green accommodation in the near future.

“Being mindful of, and reducing output is the first step for today’s eco-responsible hotel. But the incorporation of sustainable design principals, such as green building design and resource efficiency will drive recognition in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) ratings.”

Resource efficiency and green space is the most obvious identifier for the eco-conscious guest. This has seen demand increase for Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), which is used for residential, hotel and commercial builds.

“Our engagement with CLT in New Zealand is pretty limited by supply and the preference from the industry has typically been for more traditional materials. However, we should persevere with the technology as it can reduce carbon emissions between 9-13% when compared to reinforced concrete.”

Designing for all abilities

Another trend which Peter hopes to see, is the concept of accessible-inclusive design, ensuring beauty isn’t lost in function when designing for disabled guests.

“It’s fair to say that on a global scale, the hotel industry has been tone-deaf when designing for the less-abled. However, we’re now beginning to see initiatives like AllGo that make accessible rooms the standard by delivering personalised, beautiful, inclusive environments.”

In addition to ensuring that all rooms and amenities are wheelchair and mobile-aid appropriate –  it’s the hidden features, like floor finishes, braille, integrated handrails, motorised racks, beds with built-in hoists and voice-controlled lighting – all wrapped in a luxury-fitted package – that will identify the leaders in
this space.

“Queenstown is known as the adventure capital, but we can’t forget to design for those less able to get around. When we design for disability first, we are designing for a more inclusive world.”

Smart spaces

The evolution of the lobby and the utilisation of flexi-rooms have all influenced the design and fit-out of today’s hotels. Peter believes we will continue to see this trend in Queenstown as hotels utilise space and amenities to enhance the overall visitor experience.

With smart spaces, comes smart technology. Hospitality is the second fastest adapter of Internet of Things (IoT) after the healthcare industry. Major hotel chains are leveraging its capabilities to ensure seamless guest experience; offering hyper-personalised rooms, voice-controlled conveniences, easy room access and instant information and services, all from a touch of their smartphone.

How will this shape the hospitality industry?

“The purpose of a ‘receptionist’ will become redundant as we move towards a more digitally connected world. This, in turn, will completely change how we design our lobbies; something that today’s developers should consider.”


Sound is an important element of our environment irrespective of whether we want to maximise it or reduce it. Here we speak to acoustics experts about the impact of noise on people, and how it’s managed through good design.

Noise, defined as ‘unwanted sound’ is one of the top environmental hazards. The World Health Organisation says environmental noise exposure is responsible for a range of health effects including annoyance, sleep disturbance, stress-related mental health risks, and in high-noise environments, tinnitus.

Kezia Lloyd says that workplaces which have embraced open-plan environments to encourage innovation, creativity and collaboration, often find that they create unexpected noise challenges that result in annoyance and stress.

“In an open plan office you don’t want to be able to hear the person on the phone next to you because it can distract you from what you need to concentrate on. If you can clearly understand words spoken in a conversation that you’re not part of – that’s distracting and annoying noise. Obviously for the person that’s trying to listen to that conversation, that’s great, but for others it’s unwanted.”

One way this can be combatted is by increasing the background noise level to mask conversation, so that the content is not clear to the unintended listener.

“A good place to see this in action is a GPs office, where you’ve often got terrible walls and doors, so they add piped music – that’s to mask the sound of highly confidential conversations and make people feel more at ease. Current technologies allow you to subtlety add noise to a space and adapt that spectrum in an active way. The system can hear the sound that’s going on in a space and then change the spectrum to balance it out. It’s not new technology but it’s smarter than it’s ever been before.”

Thanks to the emerging field of psychoacoustics, there is more awareness about the auditory spectrum and how different people respond to sound.

“We know that some people will thrive in a busy, buzzy environment and be able to get a heap done, but others require a quiet, serene environment. That’s why there’s a big shift to modern working and learning environments with spaces that cater to a range of needs. We know that you need to give people options because no one is the same.”

Kezia emphasises that ultimately, judging whether there is too much noise is a matter of personal preference and the environment.

Richard Jackett is one of the foremost experts on the impact unwanted road noise has on people and communities – he’s spent most of his career assessing it.

“Fundamentally it comes down to how acceptable noise is. WSP has done much of the research that underpins road noise guidance and standards in New Zealand. What was deemed reasonable for New Zealand road traffic is 57 decibels.”

However, Richard points out that New Zealand’s standardised algorithms for predicting traffic noise were last reviewed 30 years ago, highlighting there is room for improvement.

“The model has done a good job, but it was developed at a time when the top selling cars were the VN Commodore and EA Falcon. Things have changed dramatically since then and we need to consider a broader range of scenarios, such as intersection and night time noise.”

It takes time to respond to such changes due to the requirement for robust evidence of the problem. Because noise assessments are often brought before council chambers or the Environment Court, updating regulation is a significant undertaking. New limits and models will also change how large projects are designed and how planners tackle residential developments.

Interestingly, Richard says the expectation that road noise will be drastically reduced with the shift towards electric vehicles is incorrect.

“It’s the interaction between the tyre and the road that generates most of the noise – certainly for cars – so quieter engines and no exhaust won’t make an urban environment that much quieter. The big shift will come when we see more electric buses and trucks.”

Richard’s team helps with planning decisions, investigates noise complaints and recommends solutions.

“We try to get in as early as possible in the decision making to ensure the road alignment has the least amount of impact – that’s the best thing we can do for people. The next thing is to find the road surface that generates the least amount of noise.”

Ideally road noise should be limited at source, he says, rather than relying on expensive interventions such as noise walls, which cause shading, or the installation of double-glazing on houses.

“To be honest, we get limited traction on where the road goes because there is so much involved in making those decisions, but we can influence the road surface. Greater investment on the surface means less spend on mitigating with barriers, and house treatments, so it’s a pretty compelling case.”

This approach has been successfully applied to large projects including the Waikato Expressway and Southern Links.

Richard has seen first-hand the impact noise has on people, and says that even small changes have a tangible effect on the people who have to live with it.

“I was involved in a research project that went into people’s houses and talked to them about a recent change in their noise exposure. They talked about sleeping with windows closed, spending more time in the kitchen because it was easier to talk there, listening to the TV with the volume on level 20 rather than 15.”

There’s always a balance he says, the trick is in finding a solution that satisfies both sides and being able to justify it with evidence.

Kezia Lloyd is Head of Specialist Services at WSP, incorporating Acoustics, Fire, Façades, and Sustainability disciplines. As a Chartered Acoustic Engineer, she draws on her experience to develop innovative acoustics solutions for clients across multiple sectors.

Richard Jackett is Principal Engineering Scientist – Acoustics at WSP. His work focuses on defining and performing applied environmental research and consultation projects, as well as proving guidance for acoustics, quantitative analysis, and modelling.

Gazing into the Crystal Ball: Tomorrow’s Classrooms

The past is easy to predict, the future not so much. As custodians of the built environment and designers of long-lasting infrastructure, WSP experts need to balance the needs of today with the possibility of the future. We asked our thought leaders what trends are likely to shape their area of expertise in 2020.

For today’s students, the future is characterised by change and uncertainty on a scale never experienced before. Underpinning this are emerging mega-trends of climate, society, resources and technology, where even conceiving the future implications can be fraught with uncertainty.

It’s not just change, but the rate of change which adds complexity for today’s students. They’re being educated for challenges, roles and responsibilities that don’t yet exist in a world that may be fundamentally different from today’s. Undoubtedly this will require new attributes and skill sets that contribute to demands for innovation, creativity and sustainable practices, as the world seeks mega-trend responses.

This is changing the role of the student as learner – the receiver of data and information – and the teacher as provider of largely static information and knowledge, pre-learned through established processes.

Technological advancements are resulting in the unpredictability of future workforce requirements and rapid advancements of automation. Student knowledge now comes from increasingly diverse sources and is transferred through a variety of mechanisms, both within and outside of formalised environments. It is increasingly global, where the concepts of seeing and experiencing now have a different meaning to physical presence.

As core elements of the teaching role become more standardised, so does the potential for commoditised and standardised delivery mechanisms. There is an additional requirement to shift from delivering information and knowledge to enabling learning. As opposed to standardisation, this requires learning experiences to be highly customised, and designed to meet the diverse and variable needs of individual learners to ensure the education experience is fully inclusive.

These factors redefine the core purpose of schools and the role of teachers. Increasingly, teachers must emphasise developing student capabilities such as; social skills and relationships, collaboration, communication, problem solving and critical thinking, and enhancing emotional as well as cognitive development. The role also involves being the managers of behaviour, expectations and wellbeing, as education becomes more learner centred, focusing on engagement, inquiry and active, flexible, deep learning.

The practice of working with a cohort of learners in isolation – single cell classrooms – is shifting to more team centric approaches, not only within the school environment but also virtually. This requires that collaborative practices evolve for students to develop trusting relationships with people they may have never met in person. This is akin to the project-based requirements of the working world. For teachers, this means a requirement to design learning activities with horizontal connectedness across multidisciplinary rather than silo topics.

As designers and engineers, we have a role to play in creating stimulating, collaborative and safe learning environments that foster these critical thinkers of the future.

Can we image a future where core data, information and knowledge are ‘uploaded’ and the purpose of education is to teach students to use cognitive strategies to translate this into wisdom?

Robert Lyall, Market Leader Education

Gazing into the Crystal Ball: Infrastructure Disruption

The past is easy to predict, the future not so much. As custodians of the built environment and designers of long-lasting infrastructure, WSP experts need to balance the needs of today with the possibility of the future. We asked our thought leaders what trends are likely to shape their area of expertise in 2020.

Lessons learnt from major seismic events in the last decade have changed the resilience landscape and provided a greater understanding of our vulnerabilities. But there’s no room for complacency; as we grapple with embedding this knowledge, the impacts of climate change are creating new levels of complexity.

It started around a decade ago with the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010, and the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, which had a major impact on vital transportation networks and buildings in Wellington. We learnt a lot, and at pace. The silver lining is that we are slightly better prepared to face the challenges of adapting to climate change than we would have been.

In the last year, numerous local authorities have declared climate emergencies, heralding a new approach in which climate change in a key consideration in all decisions.

We know that new infrastructure assets need to be planned, designed, built and operated to account for the changes in climate that may occur over their lifetimes. More relevant to New Zealand, with its ageing infrastructure, is the need to retrofit to adapt to changing conditions. We’ll see more infrastructure, such as sea walls, constructed to address the physical impacts of climate change. Seismic hazards and the increasing impact of more frequent extreme weather events and sea level rise are also complicating matters.

To date, the Canterbury earthquakes have cost private insurers and the Earthquake Commission more than $32 billion. With climate change impact, the Insurance Council estimates that New Zealand can expect to face an average annual cost of $1.6 billion – and that’s if risks are managed. In the future, there may be parts of the country that must bear unaffordable insurance premiums, or no cover available to them at all.

So, what’s in store for 2020?

As Kaikōura recovery winds down and lessons bed-in, the NZ Transport Agency has increased its focus on resilience. The Wellington transport resilience business case provides a pathway for other regions and authorities to follow, as they build resilience funding into their new National Land Transport Programme planning in 2020, or the local authority long term council community plan.

Resilient buildings will be a focus, driven by the insurance crunch and acceptance of the vulnerability of buildings to even modest levels of earthquakes. There will be greater understanding of the basin effects and proposed changes to the seismic codes. Resilience-based design will gain momentum. Considering resilience in the early design phases should ultimately result in cost savings.

Changes are already underway, such as the establishment of the new Infrastructure Commission, National Disaster Resilience Strategy and changes to the Earthquake Commission. Their impact will begin to grow once traction is gained in the new year.

Pathmanathan Brabhaharan, Technical Director Geotechnical Engineering & Resilience

Gazing into the Crystal Ball: Low-carbon Design

The past is easy to predict, the future not so much. As custodians of the built environment and designers of long-lasting infrastructure, WSP experts need to balance the needs of today with the possibility of the future. We asked our thought leaders what trends are likely to shape their area of expertise in 2020.

We’ve been building for a long time and the materials used haven’t changed significantly. The Romans used concrete, the first iron bridge was opened in 1781 and the modern steel making process really kicked off in 1856.

However, we’ve reached a tipping point with the use of these materials. Concrete is one of the most widely used man-made materials, but it comes with a price. Studies show cement is the source of about 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions – if the industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world.

Our approach to building design has a significant role to play in addressing this. We need to design buildings which meet the needs of the increasing population, reduce emissions and are adaptable to the changing climate.

So, how do we drive these changes?

At the design phase, we work with ever more powerful computing hardware and software. This allows true 3D design, parametric and automated design, and interrogation of the phasing of construction. Using these tools allows teams to focus on optimising design, and the design for construction, making buildings easier, quicker and cheaper to build.

Recent developments in material technology allow us to design buildings that are lighter, stronger and more resilient, while having a smaller environmental impact.

While reinforced concrete is an excellent building material, its production is one of the largest contributors to the global CO2. The onus is on us to actively reduce the amount of concrete in a building.

Perhaps most exciting for New Zealand is the development of wood-based products; we’re seeing engineered timber used in new and innovative ways.

First came plywood, then Cross Laminated Timber, which is composed of different layers of sawn timber glued together. There’s also Brettstapel, where layers of timber are fixed with timber dowels.

New processes allow exotic materials such as Superwood to be manufactured. Superwood is a fascinating development; by soaking wood in a mix of chemicals, compressing and heating it, a material is created which is claimed to be stronger than steel.

Innovations like this allow a step change in construction technology. New, light weight materials such as carbon fibre are already being used to strengthen buildings and alternative uses of carbon, such as graphene or carbon nanotubes, will significantly improve building performance. It is possible that we may yet see these materials used as surface skins for the interiors and exteriors of buildings due to their ability to respond to the environment.

Another emerging trend is the 3D printing of walls. Flowable and quick-setting, these materials allow integration of structural, thermal and acoustic properties. Chemical engineering of these materials will ultimately produce an alternative material to cement. Looking even further into the future, biomimicry and the development of genetic engineering could allow corals,
or similar animals, to grow in a matter of hours to produce building materials.

Buildings should make a positive difference to the environment. We need to design in a way that requires less energy during construction, and for buildings to use low energy, even generate their own power to become truly carbon negative.

Dr Paul Jaquin, Work Group Manager Buildings and Structures

Gazing into the Crystal Ball: Developing Rail

The past is easy to predict, the future not so much. As custodians of the built environment and designers of long-lasting infrastructure, WSP experts need to balance the needs of today with the possibility of the future. We asked our thought leaders what trends are likely to shape their area of expertise in 2020.

In 2020, New Zealand will face the challenge of how to effectively and efficiently deliver an ambitious programme of rail and mass transit investments across the country.

After many decades of predominantly road-based investment the pendulum has swung dramatically. The scale of rail and mass transit projects in planning, procurement and delivery is substantially larger than anything seen in recent history.

This investment in transit follows a global trend, built on the recognition of the benefits to the community, environment and economy that flow from reliable, well-considered and efficient transit connections. Providing high quality public transport allows for a more imaginative use of urban form and encourages activities such
as walking and cycling, which lead to healthier streets and healthier people.

Whilst this investment is the right thing to do it is going to be difficult; simply because we haven’t done enough of it. Just like going to the gym for the first time or after a break is painful for long underutilised muscles, we should expect this transition period to be painful at times too. New Zealand’s transit infrastructure ‘muscles’ must exist at all levels: policy, planning, procurement, delivery, regulation, operations and maintenance – and they all need a work out.

It’s easy to do what you’re good at, but it’s hard to do what you want to be good at.

The good news is that some of this ‘muscle conditioning’ has already begun, through initiatives such as the City Rail Link project in Auckland as well a series of business cases related to enhancements of the Auckland rail network. These business case activities are not just developing the pipeline, they are stretching policy writers, agencies, funders and decision makers, forcing government agencies and ministries to work together to solve problems and answer new questions. Proposed light rail transit (LRT) and mass rapid transit (MRT) schemes in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch as well as other transit-related projects entering the planning pipeline will continue the workout.

New Zealand can also benefit from the hard lessons learned in Australia, as it grappled with the challenges of an immature end-to-end transit infrastructure market. Around 15 years ago, Australia began a similar journey of mass transit investment. In the beginning it was hard, with significant challenge at the political, planning, procurement, delivery and operational levels. But through commitment and tenacity the hard work paid off. The market matured and the scale of investment in mass transit successfully delivered, or nearing completion is now well over $50B, with another $150B+ planned for the next 10 years.

The recent decision of the government to create the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission, Te Waihanga, to better manage the pipeline and procurement of significant infrastructure projects is solid evidence that some of these lessons are being considered. There remains much more to achieve, and this is the journey New Zealand must continue to commit to. For our part, WSP is investing significantly in developing a strong local capability in rail and transit infrastructure planning and design, supported by a global network of professionals to assist as required.

As a country, we also need to continue to stretch our ambition, challenging our imaginations to ask bigger and better questions; “How would it change things if there was a one-hour connection between Auckland and Hamilton?” or “What would a high quality rail connection to Northland do for the regional economy in 50 years’ time?”. An industry made fit through investment now, will be ready to implement the answers to these types of questions tomorrow.

In 2020, we’ll witness some hard conversations focussed on the challenges of rapid transit investment, including sensitive topics such as affordability. What I hope will transpire is the maturity to say, “Yes, it’s hard, but this what we have to do”. The benefits for the country are just too big to ignore.

Sean Myers, Head of Rail