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July 15, 2022

New Construction Technologies and Earthquakes

Mankind has built impressive structures throughout history, only for them to succumb to the forces of nature. Earthquakes are one of the Earth’s most destructive forces — seismic waves  can destroy buildings, take lives and cost tremendous amounts of money for loss and repair. Earthquakes by nature are unpredictable and are defined as either a sideways shaking or an up-and-down shaking or a combination of both. 

According to the National Earthquake Information Center, there are approximately 16 major earthquake disasters each year. On August 14, 2021, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the southwest region of Haiti and killed over 2,000 people. As is common, much of the damage was caused by buildings collapsing with people inside them, making earthquake-proof buildings a must.  

Somehow amid the abrupt chaos, some buildings continue to stand, unaffected by an earthquake’s impact. But how?

The image attached to this blog is a very specific one.  It is the entrance lobby of Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel in Tokyo,  Though the Imperial Hotel was demolished in 1968, the entrance lobby was saved and reconstructed at the Meiji Mura architecture museum in Nagoya. It is said that Frank Lloyd Wright went to great pains to design his building to be earthquake resistant, even demanding that the outdoor pools be left in the design to provide water in case of a fire or earthquake.   On 26 April 1922, the worst earthquake (6.8) in decades struck Tokyo. While many buildings in the area were destroyed and the remains of the first Imperial Hotel were toppled, the hotel itself—while shaken—stood completely undamaged.[14] Wright was working on the upper floor of the building at the time, and he feared that the building would collapse when he heard a huge crash, but this turned out to just be the five chimneys from the first Imperial Hotel. The building was one of the few in the area undamaged and the water from the pools Wright had insisted on was used to put out local fires.

Over the past few decades, engineers have introduced new designs and building materials to better equip buildings to withstand earthquakes.

Promising Building Materials

  • Prefabricated timber has the potential to support skyscrapers.

  • Modular Bamboo - Fast growing, eco-friendly material used to reinforce steel in earthquake resistant buildings.

  • 3D Graphene - 5% of steel’s density but up to 200 times stronger. A lightweight material for the tallest skyscrapers

  • Self-healing Concrete - Concrete with water activated bacteria that produces calcite to fill cracks.

Design Elements

  • Diaphragms - Now the primary component of a building’s horizontal structure, including the floors and the roof.

  • Trusses strengthen the diaphragm where the deck is weakest. Simply put, they are diagonal structures that are inserted into the rectangular areas of the frame.

  • Shear walls -  help resistance swaying forces, engineers use vertical walls, known as shear walls, to stiffen the structural frame of the building. These can be used in place of braced frames or in addition to them.

  • Moment Resisting Frames Since shear walls limit a building’s flexibility, some designers choose moment-resisting frames to allow positive movement. Although columns and beams can bend, joints and connectors stay rigid. These features also give building designers more flexibility to create exterior walls, ceilings, and arrange building contents.

Design Technology

Augmented reality is one of the most talked-about technology trends in construction. Using advanced camera and sensor technology, AR combines one’s physical surroundings with computer-generated information and presents it in real time. It offers many benefits that previously were not available .

  • Identify money saving modifications during construction 

  • Prevent costly construction mistakes

  • Identify safety improvements.

  • It can be used in project planning 

  • Automated measurements of a building under construction and when complete as well.

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