How to build a house that can withstand earthquakes and floods

Written by Inyoung Hwang, CNN The building collapses near a steep grade, or you can build the family into a stack of glass bottles or use catwalks to open the walls. You need to…

How to build a house that can withstand earthquakes and floods

Written by Inyoung Hwang, CNN

The building collapses near a steep grade, or you can build the family into a stack of glass bottles or use catwalks to open the walls.

You need to design — almost completely — a house that will stand up to natural disasters, disaster and wars, but without being so impenetrable that an ordinary homeowner can’t get into it.

Each of these elements — especially around flooding — is a challenge, and it’s these bespoke building approaches that can be the deciding factor in homeowners’ — and the local — final decisions on which design of the four houses is best for them.

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Smit Calcutta, which shows off two of the houses at the Durban Expo 2018. Credit: SmitCalcutta/Facebook

The Property Rights and Disaster Recovery Lab in Chennai, India, is one of a network of such centers, which run micro and macro studies that go beyond the idea of insurance payments. The IMLSKL+SIRIS Center for Information Analysis and Development is particularly well-known for its earthquake studies.

In talking to experts from the ground, Urban World Studio presented some of the practical elements of building a house to withstand disaster and receive local sanctions.

The team at the Durban Expo 2018 took their role in building flood resilient homes a step further. Here, they showcase their renovation process in a family-oriented new build and revisit their earlier examples of resilience.

However, doing everything right doesn’t always ensure the house doesn’t collapse — previously demonstrated by Srikarna, a disabled woman born in the mines of India, who lost her own home in the 2010 earthquake in Nepal, in a recent series by CNN at the Durban Fair 2018.

“Sri Lanka has been told to show ‘across the board’ that [building resilience] is a project that cannot be solved by human efforts alone, but requires a systemic approach,” says Debra Jarman, a doctoral student at New York University who contributed to the design of the house in Chennai.

This home is almost one-third of the way complete. Credit: CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Designing out risk

One of the easiest ways to understand what it takes to build an earthquake-resilient house is to put it into the context of the construction, commonly known as Meissen tiles in South Korea. The intricate shapes, which form many stucco units, can stand up to earthquakes up to a magnitude of 6.3, according to the South Korean Institute of Sciences

Harvard University research scientist Ping Kuo, who did the research, explained the thinking behind these tiles to CNN last year

“Meissen tiles are way stronger than the ‘dragged’ tiles, and at their most weak part, the end one (of the two parts of the two tower),” she said. “So if we really want to design a seismic-resistant house, we shouldn’t be using [Tepco] steel cladding, which is weak.”

Kuo, who co-authored an RPI paper on earthquake-proof construction, explained that the process of why a ground-core earthquake-resistant house is built is similar to how they help motorists in the US understand why certain cars stand up when struck by an airplane.

“When a plane hits a house, the dead weight makes it fall, not the building. But an earthquake makes all the extra dead weight go down, so the house falls.”

“It’s safer and much more economical to design a house that you can dismantle after an earthquake.”

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The formula for building resilience

The bottom line for the Delhi-based Rohit Gupta, an architect from the UK, is to view his work, and that of his professional peers, as a science study.

“So as an engineer, what we are doing is building safe houses. And we build them to withstand extreme shocks. Let’s be really clear. We are not building buildings as much as we are measuring how much time it takes to rebuild after a disaster. And we have design-based solutions for these gaps, based on critical data. And I have thought a lot about the intersections between engineering, building science and design,” he said.

Karen Black, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who provided land for the earlier houses built in Chennai, praised the architects as full of “collaboration, about how to make these structures much stronger.”

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