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Quake-Proofing: Examining the future for earthquake-resistant buildings

Kengo Kuma Komatsu Seiren

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To completely get away from earthquakes, relocation may seem like the best approach, but for many people this isn’t an option. Besides, you can’t relocate entire cities. Countries like Japan, Mexico and New Zealand are rocked by earthquakes every year. So, how can we protect buildings in a country plagued by earthquakes?

Although buildings like the Burj Khalifa and the Yokohama Landmark Tower can withstand severe earthquakes, due to their advanced engineering, no building is completely immune. Architects and designers are actively trying to go beyond concrete and steel, and find ways to use other materials to make more resilient buildings. The Japanese company, Komatsu Seiren has developed a carbon-fibre curtain that protects an office building in Nomi City. Carbon mesh forms a rod-like structure that anchors the building, ensuring strength and flexibility. So, when the building jolts during an earthquake, the rods would pull it back in position. Although an earthquake is the only way to determine if the building is truly quake-proof, this design could open up further possibilities for earthquake reinforcement methods in the future. The project’s lead architect Shun Horiki, believes that the rods could also be used on wooden structures.

Interestingly, there could be a time where earthquake-proof structures are built using concrete that mimics the structure of a coconut. Researchers and scientists at University of Freiberg, Germany have been closely analysing the structure of coconuts. The team has found that the inner layer, known as the endocarps deflects cracks and bending forces, because the layer is made up of a vascular system that can divert the trajectory of cracks. They concluded that building structures with a coconut structure in mind, could stop structures from cracking and toppling over.

Another idea is ‘base isolation’, which is being developed by engineers. This involves floating a building above its foundation, using padded cylinders, bearings or springs. So, in the event of an earthquake, the foundations will move, protecting the structure above it. Engineers are developing new technologies to improve these buildings, such as using electric sensors that could detect seismic shaking and would tell the structure how to avoid damage. These type of sensors, also known as accelerometers are active in Japan. They measure the seismic waves and the data can be recorded, to give an appropriate warning. Also in Japan, architectural company Air Danshin developed a levitating house that sits on a compressor, which inflates when sensors feel a tremor. What better way to avoid tragedy by putting a house in the air when an earthquake hits?

There are always going to be earthquakes all over the world. Several million occur every year and countries most effected are those located along a seismic fault line. When earthquakes do erupt, the majority of the fatalities come from buildings toppling on people. For example, 115 of the 185 victims that lost their lives in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, died in one building. In the 2016 Italy earthquake, many people were still being pulled from rubble twenty-four hours after the quake struck. Evidently, the key is building structures that can withstand any earthquake.

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Image source: https://www.designboom.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/kengo-kuma-komatsu-seiren-fabric-laboratory-fa-bo-japan-designboom-01-818x545.jpg