The stunning sky gardens running through the middle of Sydney’s crumbling Opal Tower — a huge selling point for the 36-storey building — could now be its undoing as engineers begin to investigate the section’s structural integrity.
Residents were forced out of their apartments for the second time in four days giving an independent panel of engineers, appointed by the NSW government, the opportunity to fully investigate the problem.
Professor Mark Hoffman and John Carter, the two engineers tasked with figuring out why the building began to fail, will investigate the precast concrete construction method used for part of the Opal Tower.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Professor Hoffman described the cracking concrete next to the sky gardens on Christmas Eve as “a pretty rare occurrence”.
“There’s clearly some very notable damage there but the issue we’re all grappling with is the cause of it, we have to inspect a lot of other parts of the building as well,” the Dean of Engineering at the University of NSW told the publication.
“The first place you’d look at is the design of the structure because it’s unique, it’s a little bit different.”
Despite engineers narrowing in on the precast concrete, Professor Hoffman said the building method was extremely common worldwide.
“If our investigation uncovers an issue relating to precast concrete, that information will be shared with our report to government,” the two engineers said in a joint statement.
Sources told the publication the 16 concrete panels sitting across from the picturesque sky gardens would form a major part of the inquiry.
In its design brief for the Opal Tower, architect firm Bates Smart described the building as “representing the next generation of environmentally-sound apartment living”.
“The latest… tower creates a new ‘vertical community’, containing 369 apartments and a series of dramatic vertical communal sky gardens providing environmental benefits,” the firm said in its description of the tower.
RESIDENTS REFUSING TO LEAVE OPAL TOWER
Some residents have refused to leave Sydney’s cracked Opal Tower despite being asked by the building’s developer to move out, prompting the NSW government to request an urgent update on the investigation.
Residents were first evacuated from the building on Christmas Eve after some people heard cracking noises and emergency services were called.
Most had moved back in to the Sydney Olympic Park building when on Thursday they were told by the developers the entire tower would need to be emptied so their investigations could continue for at least 10 days.
However, on Friday evening, a few residents hadn’t left.
“While most have moved out, a handful are yet to move,” a spokesman for developer Ecove told AAP.
Ecove said residents were also being offered financial support for living expenses while engineers survey the tower.
“We’re pushing as hard as everyone else for information on what’s happened, and for speedy rectification,” the company’s director Bassam Aflak said in a statement on Friday.
Engineering firm WSP, one of the investigators being employed by Icon, said the building was structurally sound but residents needed to leave to allow engineers to assess and remediate the site in the quickest time possible.
The damaged section of the building on Level 10 has been reinforced as a precautionary measure, WSP said in a statement to residents on Thursday.
Julian Doyle, the NSW director of building company Icon, said the apartment tower was not at risk of collapsing, but the fastest way for the issue to be dealt with was to remove all residents.
“I think ultimately the building will be as it was designed to be,” he said.
An angry resident confronted Mr Doyle during his Thursday press conference at the base of the tower, demanding better temporary accommodation and a clearer timeline of when they would be allowed back home.
Mr Doyle could not guarantee residents would be able to move back in after 10 days.
Opposition leader Michael Daley, who visited the building on Friday, criticised Premier Gladys Berejiklian for failing to inspect the site.
“I am here again today to ask the premier to show some leadership and look after these people,” Mr Daley told reporters.
He said the NSW building certification system needed to be improved. He said developers should not be able to pick their own certifiers, and the system needed to be generally more rigorous.
This investigation will run concurrently with the developer’s own investigation.