Innovation does not only mean brand new mind-blowing inventions but the unseen use of the already existing things. When it comes to architecture, structure innovations take a long process, for a misconception can lead to chaos. However, over the years, technological advances and access to knowledge have enabled countries worldwide to move more freely around the field, especially when it comes to inventions that seek to solve more significant problems such as earthquakes.
This article will revise some intelligent solutions in seismic-resistant architecture by revising buildings that redefined structural concepts in design and function.
1. Tuned Mass Dampers: Taipei 101 – Taiwan.
This 508 m tall skyscraper in Xinyi District, Taiwan, sits in an area where seismic activity and typhoons are frequent. In seeking comfort and security for users, the anti-seismic device sits in plain sight, granting a sense of security. A 700-ton golden ball hangs like a pendulum, attached with thick cables to a metal structure in the heart of the building. This system is called a Tuned Mass Damper, and its role is to absorb the vibration caused by the earthquake.
This golden ball receives the name of oscillation mass, and its objective is generating reacting forces to counteract the seismic effect. It works as a hanging counterweight, absorbing the earthquake’s forces. Still, if this energy is not ‘diffused’ somewhere else, it would be transmitted back to the building. Therefore, two components take protagonism: the spring, which will generate the elastic restoring force (that is to say, a force responsible for counter striking the possible deformations in the cables), and the hydraulic viscous damper, which turns the vibration’s energy in the structure into heat, releasing it into the air.
2. Concrete Structure and Carving: Torre Reforma, México City
This building is an example of how structural knowledge may help you withstand project decisions that may otherwise seem fantasy. The Torre Reforma towers over a historical and cultural part of Mexico City. History takes an essential role in the project design: the tower stands as if supporting itself on an ancient house that integrates into the facade, seeming as if the building grew over it. The building breaks the scene of the area by introducing an entire glass structure in the skyline.
However, as a reference to prehispanic Mexican cities and Mexico’s colonial style, one of the facades was designed as a concrete skeleton, remembering the use of stone and earth. However, to make this design earthquake-proof, every four floors triple-height windows were carved so that the walls wouldn’t succumb to bending forces.
Furthermore, to make feasible fractures foreseeable, the concrete pouring process was slowed down to create seams between layers. This way, they had control over where the failure might occur, assuring the integrity of the building.
Another measure taken to reassure the seismic isolation is the employment of reinforced concrete shear walls (a structure that helps the building cope better with lateral forces) connected by so-called ‘coupling beams.’ This element helps to dissipate seismic energy while resisting lateral forces.
3. Laminated Timber: Trimble Navigation HQ – New Zealand
In 2011, New Zealand’s engineering design company “Trimble Navigation” lost its facilities to a fire. However, there was no time to weep: doing what they do best, they turned their headquarters into the first pre-stressed laminated timber building. This engineered, manufactured wooden product has a higher resistance due to the varying direction in which every veneer is glued, therefore being more resistant to warping. They employed post-tensioned laminated veneer timber for frames and walls.
All in all, they help dissipate the energy emitted by the earthquake thanks to their resilient nature. Riveted seismic connections keep this building together.
Moreover, energy dissipating devices mounted to the building’s exterior absorb the energy released during an earthquake, and damping in the frames and walls helps create a more resilient structure. Dampers turn kinetic energy into heat, dissipating it through the building.
4. Surface Sliders and Base Isolation: UC Innovation Center Anacleto Angeli – Chile
Chile is probably one of the most seismic regions in Latin America, which has led them to dedicate serious investigation to make their citizens safe in an earthquake-proof city over the years. This building, a ten-story floored research, creation, and educational center, is the built will of a safer, integrated Chile.
The building employs base isolation, meaning it sits isolated from the ground over elastomeric insulators. This device consists of two steel plates placed horizontally, encasing a resistant rubber core.
Rubber is highly resistant to compression forces and horizontal sliding, as well as having the capability to absorb and dissipate energy from vibrations. Steel’s rigidity avoids rubber deformation of its high resistance to vertical forces. Together, they create a highly resistant device where the parts work together to assure the building’s stability.
Another method employed in this building is surface sliders, a device that, as its name states, has little resistance to lateral movement, therefore “mimicking” the seismic activity allowing relative horizontal sliding where there is low friction. However, they have proven to be highly resistant to vertical stresses. These two methods allowed Aravena, the architect behind the project, to satisfy the seismic needs of its citizens without compromising design and aesthetics.
5. Retrofitting: FA-BO – Nomi City
Protecting the existing is also an architect’s job. Kengo Kuma‘s perspective of resilient architecture went beyond imagination when asked to make seismic proof of the three-story Komatsu Siren offices. The Japanese architect broadened his scope and understanding of the vast possibilities of interdisciplinary solutions; he achieved the lightest earthquake-proof system. (P. Bhatt and A. Goe, 2017)
We are talking about carbon fibers. This investigation concluded in 9mm thermoplastic carbon fiber, proven to be more resistant than wires but weighing almost nothing. Other characteristics are high stiffness, high tensile strength, high chemical resistance, high temperature tolerance, and low thermal expansion. (P. Bhatt and A. Goe, 2017)
Who would say textiles and architecture could synergically solve a problem of such magnitude? The system is quite simple: Kuma created a curtain around the building, wrapping it in the fibers. This system allows the whole building to oscillate altogether without collapsing as the fibers anchor to the roof and webbing out to the ground.
Many other innovations and investigations have been developed worldwide, from new resilient materials to complex structural developments. In the meantime, innovation and design work together to make our cities safer and more resilient.
Bhatt, P ; Goe, A. (2017). Carbon Fibres: Production, Properties and Potential Use. Material Science Research India, Vol. 14, Pages 52-57. Available from: https://www.materialsciencejournal.org/vol14no1/carbon-fibres-production-properties-and-potential-use [Accessed: 22 April 2021].