Buildings Made for Disaster

New architecture claims to withstand earthquakes and storms

18 September 2013

Most of us would not turn down a job because the office building is not earthquake-proof, but after a series of natural disasters in regions prone to them, it may soon become a consideration. A survey of more than 1000 companies in Tokyo revealed that, after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and the tsunami that followed, the most important criteria for an office building is that it is earthquake resilient.

The survey showed that 92 percent of business owners prioritize earthquake resilience as an important factor in selecting an office location above all else, followed by 55 percent who selected proven disaster management knowledge and experience by the builder, and 51 percent wanted an onsite power generator to provide power when there was an outage. Building developers are listening.

Japanese real estate developer Mori Building, for example, is creating “communities that people will seek refuge in, not run away from, in times of disaster.” The buildings themselves not only will be more secure, according to the company’s website, but also the surrounding areas will be constructed with improved infrastructure including open spaces and better transportation routes, as well as a disaster prevention and relief center nearby.

Its Roppongi Hills urban development project in Tokyo is incorporating a variety of technologies in its buildings designed to withstand weather-related disasters. Developers are using a technique called “sticky walls” that requires injecting a strong adhesive substance into the walls’ steel plates, which alleviates the pressure and causes a resistance force against wind. Oil dampers also will be installed throughout the building. These have sensors that can detect slight movements. When shaking occurs, the dampers release the oil, which helps absorb the friction. This feature has already been installed in the development’s Mori Tower.

Other technologies include a green mass damper that incorporates laminated rubber on the roof of buildings, the same type used in a seismic isolation structure, which absorbs the energy of the earthquake. Rather than hollow columns, developers will use concrete-filled steel tubes columns, which provide a sturdier, more resistant framework.

The need to construct stronger buildings with features that take preventative measures against natural disasters is becoming more the standard across the world. Related, a U.S. firm, is incorporating microturbines in its office buildings and apartments throughout the country, which can produce electricity and heat during power outages. A research team from Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, recently tested how to make structures with garages on the first floor better withstand seismic shocks, since open spaces on the first floor are particularly susceptible to earthquake damage. The team is testing cross-laminated timber, a fairly new material. It used the wood to retrofit a building to see whether it can endure the shaking and has so far proven to be successful. Currently, 2800 buildings in San Francisco alone are required by law to be retrofitted due to the buildings’ “soft-story” conditions.

Is it possible to construct buildings that are disaster proof? What technologies would you suggest for such buildings?

Photo: iStockphoto

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