Geoff is an experienced structural engineer who has been involved in standards development for nearly 40 years. He is dedicated to improving the built environment against the impact of extreme weather conditions, by participating in development and revision of building standards. He is a member of the Australasian Wind Engineering Society and a research fellow and adjunct associate professor at James Cook University’s Cyclone Testing Station.
Geoff was recently appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day 2020 Honours List for significant service to engineering and professional bodies.
Standards Australia: Why did you first get involved in standards development?
Geoffrey Boughton (GB): Getting involved in standards was a natural extension of my work with the Cyclone Testing Station, where we focused on understanding how buildings were able to resist the loads placed on them in extreme wind events.
SA: Do you think standards can play a role in protecting and building resilient communities across Australia?
GB: They certainly do. When we compare the levels of damage sustained by buildings constructed to the current suite of standards with those constructed to older standards, there is a significant difference in performance. In part, this is due to deterioration of older buildings, but it is also a function of the structural features required to comply with the contemporary standards. For example, in the past many buildings were constructed with nails securing battens to rafters, but current standards require significantly stronger connections, particularly in cyclone-prone areas. We still find houses that have significant roof damage in wind events were those that had battens nailed to rafters.
The above is a simple example, but it underlines the fact that standards are written to ensure that the minimum standard of construction required in the National Construction Code (NCC) give buildings a good chance of protecting life and safety of the occupants. Of course, they set a minimum standard, but if owners choose to build to a higher level, then it can significantly increase their building’s level of resilience.
SA: How have building standards changed in your 40 years of experience?
GB: Australian building standards have changed in a number of different ways over the years. Standards now recognise that most users have access to computers, so design calculations can be much more complex and give a result that more fairly presents the loads for particular design scenarios. The presentation of standards for viewing on phones and tablets makes them much more accessible on building sites.
The writing or revision of standards has however become much more complex, particularly if the standards are referenced in the NCC. Justification of even minor changes require significant cost-benefit analyses, which presents challenges in finding data on design events that have a very low probability of occurring. This is particularly difficult when considering the rapid changes that are happening within building practice, and the potential effects of climate change.
SA: What do you think is the future of standardisation?
GB: Developing resilience of building stock through safe and effective building standards is a powerful tool for fostering community resilience. Revisions of standards will need to be quickly developed and implemented to keep pace with rapid changes in materials, construction practices and climate change, so that new buildings can meet the expected loads over their lifetimes. There is also a continuing need for voices in standards committees that strongly represent the community interests and initiate and press for change when required.