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Tectonus – the venture stabilising the building industry in post-quake New Zealand

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The team behind Velocity spin-out company Tectonus were inspired to make a difference to the building industry by the devastating Christchurch earthquakes, inventing a superior damping connection. Their device self-centres following a seismic event, allowing a structure to withstand an earthquake and any following aftershocks. The technology can be applied to new or existing structures, requires no post-event maintenance and is cost-effective and compact.

The team that make up Tectonus consist of several academic staff and former students of the University of Auckland. Back in 2015 when they entered the Velocity $100k Challenge run by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the judges immediately recognised the immense potential for their clever device, and they were awarded the grand prize that year. Since then they have won multiple industry accolades including being named finalists in the 2017 New Zealand Innovation Awards, winning the 2019 Trans-Tasman Innovation and Growth Awards, and now finalists in this year’s NZ Hi Tech Awards. Founder and CEO Pierre Quenneville says “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.”

Tectonus’s first project was the new Nelson Airport Terminal, created with award-winning designers and built with a budget of $32 million. They recently completed work on Hutt Valley Health Hub and have a number of projects in Christchurch including Cathedral College and the Northland Mall Upgrade.

Tectonus have now started to expand overseas, with internationally recognised engineering firm Fast + Epp designing the Tectonus devices into their own Head Office in Vancouver, Canada. Fast + Epp are known for their innovative and expert design in the field with notable winning projects such as the Richmond Olympic Oval and UBC Tallwood House – recognised as tallest mass timber hybrid structure in the world.

It may be 9 years since the earthquakes that devastated Christchurch but the impact of quakes on industry is as contemporary as ever. Scientists recently identified the Hikurangki subduction zone, arcing down the east coast of the North Island to the top of the South Island, as likely to suffer earthquakes in the near future, and insurance companies have taken note. They are moving to risk-based pricing for commercial buildings and home insurance. The Wellington Chamber of Commerce were recently reported as blaming rising insurance premiums for pushing up the rental costs for businesses in Wellington and adding to pressures which are putting businesses at risk.

Pierre says that technology such as that created by Tectonus can help future-proof both commercial properties and homes. “The beauty in the Tectonus devices is that they provide damping and self-centring in one device. They are very scalable and easily implemented to almost any building. The requirements of large, multi-storey and commercial building are different to residential homes and depending on the project – different products can be used. Tectonus are working on providing a residential building specific product later this year that will make it even easier for residential buildings to increase their earthquake protection.”

Tectonus continue to innovate and their newest invention is a device that protects storage tanks in earthquakes. Applicable in the wine, dairy and petrochemical industries – the Tectonus device protects the tanks from breaking and causing catastrophic loses to the business.

Despite his packed schedule between life as an entrepreneur and a Professor of Engineering, Pierre has been generous in giving back to the Velocity programme that helped give Tectonus its start. He regularly gives talks and mentors up-and-coming ventures going through the Velocity programme. His regular words of wisdom are that “It is a rollercoaster ride – starting something from scratch and not always knowing what you are doing is challenging, and exciting!  Keep perseverance and dreaming as this is what gets you through. There will be hard times, for sure, but stay focused, talk to your team, work together and learn from these periods.”

James Hutchinson
James Hutchinson

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The team behind Velocity spin-out company Tectonus were inspired to make a difference to the building industry by the devastating Christchurch earthquakes, inventing a superior damping connection. Their device self-centres following a seismic event, allowing a structure to withstand an earthquake and any following aftershocks. The technology can be applied to new or existing structures, requires no post-event maintenance and is cost-effective and compact.

The team that make up Tectonus consist of several academic staff and former students of the University of Auckland. Back in 2015 when they entered the Velocity $100k Challenge run by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the judges immediately recognised the immense potential for their clever device, and they were awarded the grand prize that year. Since then they have won multiple industry accolades including being named finalists in the 2017 New Zealand Innovation Awards, winning the 2019 Trans-Tasman Innovation and Growth Awards, and now finalists in this year’s NZ Hi Tech Awards. Founder and CEO Pierre Quenneville says “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.”

Tectonus’s first project was the new Nelson Airport Terminal, created with award-winning designers and built with a budget of $32 million. They recently completed work on Hutt Valley Health Hub and have a number of projects in Christchurch including Cathedral College and the Northland Mall Upgrade.

Tectonus have now started to expand overseas, with internationally recognised engineering firm Fast + Epp designing the Tectonus devices into their own Head Office in Vancouver, Canada. Fast + Epp are known for their innovative and expert design in the field with notable winning projects such as the Richmond Olympic Oval and UBC Tallwood House – recognised as tallest mass timber hybrid structure in the world.

It may be 9 years since the earthquakes that devastated Christchurch but the impact of quakes on industry is as contemporary as ever. Scientists recently identified the Hikurangki subduction zone, arcing down the east coast of the North Island to the top of the South Island, as likely to suffer earthquakes in the near future, and insurance companies have taken note. They are moving to risk-based pricing for commercial buildings and home insurance. The Wellington Chamber of Commerce were recently reported as blaming rising insurance premiums for pushing up the rental costs for businesses in Wellington and adding to pressures which are putting businesses at risk.

Pierre says that technology such as that created by Tectonus can help future-proof both commercial properties and homes. “The beauty in the Tectonus devices is that they provide damping and self-centring in one device. They are very scalable and easily implemented to almost any building. The requirements of large, multi-storey and commercial building are different to residential homes and depending on the project – different products can be used. Tectonus are working on providing a residential building specific product later this year that will make it even easier for residential buildings to increase their earthquake protection.”

Tectonus continue to innovate and their newest invention is a device that protects storage tanks in earthquakes. Applicable in the wine, dairy and petrochemical industries – the Tectonus device protects the tanks from breaking and causing catastrophic loses to the business.

Despite his packed schedule between life as an entrepreneur and a Professor of Engineering, Pierre has been generous in giving back to the Velocity programme that helped give Tectonus its start. He regularly gives talks and mentors up-and-coming ventures going through the Velocity programme. His regular words of wisdom are that “It is a rollercoaster ride – starting something from scratch and not always knowing what you are doing is challenging, and exciting!  Keep perseverance and dreaming as this is what gets you through. There will be hard times, for sure, but stay focused, talk to your team, work together and learn from these periods.”


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