Highly Efficient Japanese Techniques for Earthquake-proofing
“On March 11, I was with my wife, Yuko. My name is Hiromitsu. I just want to report that I am still alive on the twelfth and was with my wife, Yuko, yesterday. She was born January 12 of Showa 26.”
These were only some of the words survivor Hiromitsu Shinkawa wrote on the things he picked up while being sailed off on the ocean, two days after the great tsunami wiped out home. With his found futon, tatami mat, a piece of marker, and a comic book, he clung to life writing letters for the living. Shinkawa was then 60 years old.
Since the earliest recorded Hakuhou Nankai earthquake in 684, the country of Japan routinely expects almost 2,000 earthquakes per year. The Land of the Rising Sun is prone to strong land tremors and convulsions due to the fact that it is circumscribed by the active volcanic zones and oceanic trenches of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
To date, the most recent destructive quake that hit the islands was the 2018 Hokkaido Eastern Iburi earthquake (北海道胆振東部地震) – a magnitude 6.6 tremor at Tomakomai, Hokkaido. However, the historically strongest and most disastrous catastrophe to ever strike the land was the Great East Japan Earthquake (東日本大震災 ), which Hiromitsu Shinkawa survived. With a magnitude level of 9.1, the undersea mega rupture started off at the east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku, lasting for approximately six minutes and taking almost 20,000 lives in total. The Tohoku tremor is the fourth most powerful earthquake to date. It moved the main island of Honshu 2.4 meters to the east, and consequently tilted the axis of the Earth by approximately 4 to 10 inches. Aside from the 7.1 magnitude aftershock that followed, a 40.5-meter high tsunami was also triggered.
These inevitable and recurring catastrophes have pushed Japanese thinkers to continuously devise ways on how to decrease damages to a minimum. Different techniques on earthquake-proof structures have been innovated, especially after they saw the sturdy houses of traditional wooden workmanship crumble to the ground after the quake of Great Kanto in 1923. Even after then, ongoing upheaval of structural methods in architecture and engineering were developed to effectively assemble and build establishments that, if not earthquake-proof, are earthquake-resistant instead. We’ve compiled some of the leading-edge approaches presently being utilized by Japan to make earthquake-proof homes and buildings.
THE LEVITATING HOUSE
BY AIR DANSHIN SYSTEMS, INC.
Air Danshin Systems, Inc., a Tokyo-based firm distributing air shock systems, is the company behind the awarded “levitating house”, designed by inventor Shoichi Sakamoto. Literally pushing a house up in the air when an earthquake strikes, the product by Sakamoto works behind the ingenious concept of having a house rest atop of a large deflated air bag. Stable and grounded when there are only light underground tremors, the deflated air bags below the foundation of the house have installed sensors to feel an oncoming quake. Within a fraction of a second, the sensors signal to an installed compressor, switching it on.
The compressor will quickly start to pump air into the earlier deflated air bag, efficiently inflating it. In theory and in practice, the inflated air bag will push the entire house upwards by an approximate of three centimeters, thereby propelling it to float or “levitate” above ground for a few seconds. These few seconds are essentially crucial for the people dwelling inside, as the effects of the quake, such as the destructive shaking, may be reduced to a minimum. After the tremor, the sensors shut off the compressor, gradually deflating the bag to pull the house back to the ground.
However, the airlift doesn’t guarantee complete safety from larger earthquakes, such as a tremor similar to the Great East Japan Earthquake (東日本大震災 ). A system best efficient to earthquakes with lower magnitude, the “levitating house” is still very much vulnerable to impending tsunamis, such as the follow through of the 2011 destructive quake of Japan. “It would take care of a smaller earthquake, I would think”, Deke Smith told ASME.
Deke Smith is the Executive Director of the Building Seismic Safety Council (BSSC) and buildingSMART, as associated with the Washington-based National Institute of Building Sciences. The sensors also have the dangers of being considered too late, should the first tremors it detect be the strongest, and most sudden jolts of the quake. The Air Danshin airlift system had been tried for experimentations in 88 houses back in 2012, leaving it still set for ongoing development and beta testing. However, the Air Danshin airlift system paved its way through technological breakthroughs in earthquake-proofing, and is therefore expected to be improved even more as new studies on the detection of earthquakes be made.
FA-BO CARBON FIBER PROTECTION
By Kengo Kuma and Associates
Manufactured by Komatsu Seiren, the fa-bo is an fabric laboratory office transformed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Famous for having designed the shipping container-built Starbucks Taiwan and the newly-opened Starbucks Roastery Reserve in Tokyo, Kuma renovated the three-storey building to become an earthquake-resistant structure to be strengthened and supported by carbon rods.
Located in Nomi in the Ishikawa Prefecture, Kengo Kuma & Associates told Dezeen: “The fiber rod is said to be seven times stronger than iron, and this is the very first time that this material was used as a means of reinforcement against earthquakes.” The fiber rods are made of thermoplastic carbon-fiber composite, which are extremely advantageous in terms of tensile strength, stiffness, and temperature tolerance against traditional materials such as steel and concrete. All in all, fa-bo uses 1,031 rods externally holding the building from the roof to the ground. Inside, 2,778 rods are installed to further reinforce the structure from within. “When the building jolts left, the rod on the right pulls it back, and vice versa. A curtain of 2,778 rods inside adds a further layer of stability,” Shun Horiki, the project’s lead architect, explained to Wired.
Clad in knitted, light rods, the flexible curtain of carbon fiber acts seemingly and seamlessly like a “transparent cloak”, with openings in between to provide ample space for entrance.
THE SENDAI FRAMEWORK
The whole world is unceasingly looking for ways to reduce all forms of disaster risks, such as earthquakes. With ample thought and consideration not only to lives, but to health, economic, physical, social, cultural, and environmental assets, a concrete example of this global effort would be the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Formally adopted in the Third UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan in March 18, 2015, the Sendai Framework is the successor of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. It has Seven Global Targets:
(a) Substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030, aiming to lower average per 100,000 global mortality rate in the decade 2020-2030 compared to the period 2005-2015.
(b) Substantially reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030, aiming to lower average global figure per 100,000 in the decade 2020 -2030 compared to the period 2005-2015.
(c) Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.
(d) Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030.
(e) Substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.
(f) Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this Framework by 2030.
(g) Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.
In order to achieve the Global Targets, the Sendai Framework highlights Four Priorities for Action, which includes: 1) Understanding the disaster risk, 2) Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk, 3) investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience, and 4) Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Magnified by Priority Action #3 (investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience), prevention will always be better than the methods to find responsive cure. These investments for bettered resilience in disaster risk reduction not only include the levitating house and the carbon fiber curtain. For one, innovated technology now applies the concept of damping in structures. Restraining vibratory motions in the form of electric currents, oscillations, and energy dissipation, the physics of damping is best illustrated by the presence of shock absorbers.
Priority Action #4, or the themed Build Back Better, is response-related. Encouraging more individuals for the industry to help victims of earthquakes and other catastrophes, a Japanese mind, known to be the disaster architect, is behind what is called emergency architecture: structural systems created in response to disaster-stricken areas to provide relief after the calamity.
“Future cities are themselves ruins. Our contemporary cities are destined to live only a fleeting moment," he said.
CARDBOARD CATHEDRAL By Shigeru Ban
“The collapse of buildings kills people; that’s the responsibility of architects,” says Ban.
Shigeru Ban is a Tokyo-born architect best-known for his work on the innovative uses of paper. Particularly experimenting the use of recycled cardboard tubes, Ban won the 37th Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2014, which another Japanese – avant-garde Arata Isozaki – will bag away for 2019. The “disaster architect” started his work in 1986 to provide disaster relief in quake-stricken areas, but his most notable would be the Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The Transitional Cathedral, as the place was previously known, was heavily damaged by the Christchurch earthquake on February 22, 2011. The 6.2 magnitude tremor rocked the cathedral’s spire to the point of collapse, rendering its tower and the rest of its walls severely damaged. The remains of the cathedral was demolished in March 2012. Having been invited by Rev. Craig Dixon, the cathedral’s marketing and development manager, Ban took on the design and renovation of the place of worship. He did so by planning it to be made of cardboard tubes.
Made from 98mm giant cardboard tubes with 600 mm diameter and 20 meters length, the Cardboard Cathedral cost approximately $6 million, with the tubes coated with three layers of waterproof polyurethane. They are protected with a polycarbonate roof above, and a solid concrete floor beneath. For additional reinforcement and support, wooden beams were inserted inside the tubes. Built to last 50 years or so, the A-frame cathedral has a guaranteed concrete base, filled with fashioned stained glass.
Tokyo Grand Renovation is a full-service interior design and renovation firm specializing in the design and build of luxury interiors through exquisite Japanese craftsmanship. We also offer inclusive interior design styles and design and build packages, should you are still pondering on a specific look.
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