Bright Ideas in Earthquake-Safe, Ecofriendly Building


An educational poster for distribution in Pakistan, depicting earthquake-safe construction techniques. Image via Dot Earth.

Growing up in California, I was never really scared of earthquakes -- they happened frequently and most caused little, if any, damage. It wasn't until I moved to Istanbul, where many of the buildings are illegally built or modified, that I became afraid of the ground starting to shake.

But while countries such as Turkey, China, Chile, and Haiti are much more susceptible to extensive earthquake damage than the U.S. or European nations, their vulnerability is also making them ideal laboratories for innovative building and infrastructure ideas that are both earthquake-safe and ecologically sustainable.Environmental activists in Chile, for example, see the Feb. 27 earthquake and tsunami there as "an opportunity ... to rebuild in a different way -- one that is more environmentally friendly, more sustainable, with more respect and consideration for issues like climate change," Terram Foundation executive director Flavia Liberona told the Tierramérica news service.

Water Supplies at Risk
In addition to killing hundreds of people and leaving 800,000 residents homeless, the Chile quake created "mountains of rubble and garbage [and] air pollution from demolition work," and degraded biodiversity and soil quality. Chemicals and waste from damaged factories, mines, landfills, and sewage systems may well be leaking into underground water sources.

Eco-minded planners are calling for some of the quake's rubble to be recycled as road stabilizer; for composting toilets -- which create fertilizer from human waste instead of leaving water supplies vulnerable to quake-caused sewage leaks -- to be constructed in seismically active areas; and for a boost in wind and solar power that would increase energy autonomy in the wake of a disaster.

Quake-Resistant, Eco-Friendly Building Materials
Innovative uses of quake-resistant, eco-friendly building materials also seem to be flourishing in earthquake-prone areas -- from straw bale in Pakistan to recycled paper tubes (yes, really!) in China to the recycled tire logs being developed with a grant from New York state.

Building techniques matter too: Some styles of traditional thick-walled homes also stand up well in an earthquake, in addition to being energy efficient. Adding rings of reinforcing rebar doesn't use much in the way of additional materials, but makes a structure exponentially safer -- an approach promoted in Pakistan with simple, colorful explanatory posters.

More about earthquakes:
After Earthquakes: Top Down Solutions or Bottom Up?
Telemedicine Healing Haiti Earthquake Victims, Puts Healthcare on the Map
Food, Water, and... Permaculture? Rethinking Disaster Relief for Haiti and Beyond
Comparing Haiti and Chile: Did Building Codes Save Lives?
Earthquake Predicting Toads?!? Yes, Earthquake Predicting Toads
Solar Power Brings Clean Water & Clean Lighting to Haiti Relief Efforts
Dam May Have Triggered Massive China Earthquake
Bamboo Houses Stand Up To Earthquakes

Tags: Buildings | Chile | China | Developing Nations | Green Building | Haiti | Natural Disasters | Pakistan | Turkey