There is a lot of interesting information coming out of Canterbury lately – not just the new City Plan, but also the videos at the enquiry into the collapse of the CTV building. In relation to what it is doing to Engineers, and other people involved in the building industry, it is almost more interesting than the Olympics on the other channel.

Also, for almost the first time, an architect almost gave evidence: Alun Wilkie, the architect for the building that became known as the CTV building. By and large Wilkie denies any role in the structural design, which is what you would expect: architects, after all, tend not to be engineers as well on these bigger buildings. In fact, he was not there at the Commission at all, and someone else read his statement. The structural design role was left up to structural engineer Dr Alan Reay, who has now appeared three times. It’s fair to say that he got a real grilling from the lawyers at the Commission.

Also appearing, via video-link from Australia, was Gerald Shirtcliff – also known as Fisher. He also got a bit of a grilling as well. In fact, pretty much everyone seemed to be saying that they were not responsible for the CTV building. The architect says it was the engineer. The engineer says it wasn’t him, it was his employee. There’s no sign of the younger employee who may or may not have been responsible. The Council inspector is dead, but his wife says it wasn’t him. Others say that Alan Reay used to bully the Council inspectors, but Alan Reay says he had a good working relationship with the man from the council. Certain people on site say that the building was under the control of Shirtcliff, but Shirtcliff says he was hardly ever there, and can hardly remember going on site. It was 25 years ago, which is a long time, and I have no idea what I was doing on projects 25 years ago, but there are such clear differences of opinion that the only thing that is clear is that someone is lying. The question is: who?

I’m not feeling any pinch of schadenfreude about this. Nobody really expects to be grilled to the Nth degree, 25 years after a building project you worked on. Who can remember the text of a message to the Council or the reason for changing a detail on a revised drawing? Who wants to be held responsible for the mistake of the office junior who may or may not have been closely supervised in the office? Which office junior hasn’t goofed up at some stage and made a mistake that you have had to go to the boss and say “Sorry, I fucked up?” Those of you without sin, can throw the first stone.

The end result of any mistake will not, normally, ever be the cause of the death of 70 chinese language students in just a few seconds. The stakes are not normally that high. But mistakes can happen, and when the shit hits the fan, it goes everywhere, as we all know. All I can say is that if you have an inkling that something you may, or may not have done, may cause a problem later: Own up now, and get it fixed, sooner rather than later.

In the case of the CTV building, the Commission is still to finish hearing evidence and make its summary. What seems to be obvious however, is that the shear wall was built quite separately from the floor slab, and quite simply, the floors got shaken away from the core. There was nothing much holding the two parts together. In the case of a massive earthquake, far larger than code, it was doomed from the start.