VANCOUVER -- A painstaking moving operation is underway in the Great Hall at the UBC Museum of Anthropology.

More than 20 massive carvings and soaring totem poles are carefully being moved to other parts of the museum to prepare for a $30.5-million upgrade.

The five-storey Great Hall was designed in the early 1970s by the late Arthur Erickson, and since then, much more has been learned about seismic safety.

The Great Hall likely wouldn’t survive the so-called Big One.

“It would be in trouble, let’s put it that way,” said Nick Milkovich, principal architect for the upgrade.

“It’s particularly close to me because as a young architect in Arthur‘s office, I worked on this building,” Milkovich said.

Considered a modern masterpiece of concrete and glass, the Great Hall is now a designated heritage building.

Traditional reinforcement techniques would ruin the building’s iconic look, so those methods were ruled out.

Instead, UBC opted to use base isolation technology, which involves tearing down the Great Hall, including the foundation, and rebuilding it on a series of rubber and steel plates that would mitigate the impact of an earthquake – protecting the people and the priceless cultural objects inside.

Instead of shaking during a quake, the building would sway.

“The structure would still move,” Milkovich explained, “it’ll move up to one-foot-two inches, or 35 centimetres, when the earthquake hits.”

It’s only the second time a building in Canada is being outfitted with base isolators, according to UBC managing director of infrastructure development Jennifer Sanguinetti.

She said the entire project has to be undertaken with care and consideration.

The museum is consulting with local Indigenous groups during the process of lowering, moving and storing everything during the construction process.

“We can’t just kind of take a wrecking ball and go at it. We have to be very careful and the team has been working really hard to figure out what the best strategy is for that deconstruction,” Sanguinetti said.

Currently, the Great Hall doesn’t have a sprinkler system for fire protection, and the roof leaks.

There are numerous garbage cans scattered among the totem poles to collect the water falling from the ceiling.

The upgrades will address these problems, and add new sustainability measures, improved lighting, and window coverings.

The museum will remain open to the public during construction, which is scheduled to be complete in summer 2022.