18 August 2011
It is sad to record the death on Tuesday 16 August, in Christchurch, of Dr Bill Robinson, inventor, scientist and engineer. A family funeral was held on Friday 19 August, and a memorial service is planned in Wellington. This will be fitting for a quietly reserved man who has had a huge influence on seismic safety in New Zealand and throughout the world.
The invention by Dr Robinson of the lead-rubber bearing in 1976 led to its first use in Wellington in 1978 in the William Clayton building. A handful of buildings used this technology, the simplest and most reliable of isolation devices, from that time until 1994. The Northridge earthquake that year affected several hospitals in the Los Angeles suburb, but only one continued to function throughout - protected by Dr Robinson's invention. Since that time the popularity of the device has grown exponentially and continues to grow. It now protects thousands of buildings around the world, in almost every earthquake-prone country.
Notable Wellington buildings protected by the base isolators include Parliament Buildings, General Assembly Library, Te Papa Tongarewa, Rankine Brown Library, Old BNZ Building, Museum of the City and Sea, Wellington Regional Hospital and the recently completed Supreme Court. Overseas buildings include Sacramento State Building, San Francisco City Hall, Bhuj Hospital, Gujarat, Lok Nayak Hospital, Delhi, and private apartment buildings in Taiwan.
The Christchurch Women's Hospital, protected with lead-rubber bearings, survived undamaged in the recent earthquakes - a fitting tribute to the effectiveness of the lead-rubber bearing. It is likely that the reconstruction of Christchurch will see many building owners choosing base isolation technology for peace of mind and protection of property.
Dr Robinson was honoured with a Queen's Service Order in 2007 in recognition of his contribution to the reduction of the earthquake vulnerability of communities. However, the full impact of this deceptively simple device, and other devices that Bill invented, has yet to be seen. Many more buildings will be protected and, as time passes, increasing numbers of building owners and communities throughout the world will testify to the lives saved and damage avoided because of the ingenuity of New Zealander, Dr William Henry Robinson.
His intellect and wit will be sorely missed, but his legacy will be long lasting.
David C Hopkins
18 August 2011