What survives…

With the recent devastation in Japan, is the next wave in architecture the water age? It has been the element behind recent crises these days, yet we hardly ever consider incorporating it into our buildings. With tsunamis, flooding and the glaciers melting and global warming on the rise, this is a force that needs to be further addressed.

Due to masterful earthquake design, many of the buildings in Japan. I find the first video of the ductile building completely amazing. But oftentimes buildings that are good at resisting seismic forces may be completely useless at dealing with tsunamis and water damage.

Likewise, Toyo Ito’s Sendai Mediatheque sustained little damage during the earthquake because it was designed with base isolators, irregular tubes that supported thin honeycomb concrete floor plates. Ito planned with his structural engineer to make the building flow like a piece of seaweed in the water.

Video footage showed how the lightweight building responded to the earthquake, with the ceiling moving independently from the building structure.
Sendai Mediatheque Structural Concept

The building still stands and no one was seriously injured, but it requires resetting and rebolting the structural tubes before re-occupation.

It is a sad fact that many times especially within modern architecture, architects and engineers fail to address concerns of the surrounding environment and work with nature.
I think most engineers would cringe at the thought of designing buildings so that raging water can pass through underneath, but it definitely should be researched further. There is an interesting article here about ways to design for tsunami-prone coastal cities, and most likely codes will change after this disaster.

Tsunami-resistant building design
In the past, the buildings that survived were stone fortresses, but now with advanced technology, I think we can consider buildings as more ductile and limber, similar to trees, flowers and other elements in nature that respond to and interact with their environment.

A good place to start building new ideas is the Japanese architecture, the Metabolist movement, Mitchell Joachim, Achigram and organic theories of architects like Antoni Gaudi. Modularity seems key, and looking to natural organisms for structural and organizational ideas now seems more relevant than ever. A recent article in Inhabitat describes a recent home using stilts to avoid flooding.

Flux architecture, and floating buildings, pods, and cities may be the way of the future.


About Meghan Dufresne

Meghan R. Dufresne, LEED AP is an architectural designer and writer based in Boston. Interests include sustainability, gardens, art, sound, touch, experience, and merging buildings with the surrounding landscape.
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