Earthquake Resistant Architecture: A Guide |
How Buildings are Designed to Prepare for Disaster Earthquakes

How Buildings are Designed to Prepare for Disaster Earthquakes

Everything you need to know about earthquake resistant architecture

Written by – Team
on September 12th 2018
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There are some acts of nature that cannot be prevented, and earthquakes are one of them. You’ll probably be familiar with the destruction caused by disaster earthquakes, if only from watching terrifying images on the news. When a disaster earthquake hits, it has the potential to completely destroy lives. Indeed, around 8000 deaths are recorded every year as a result of earthquakes, not to mention the extensive loss of property, infrastructure and livelihoods. As such, the issue of earthquake resistant architecture remains one of the most important topics in urban design today.

Earthquake Resistant Architecture | Architecture for Earthquakes | Baan Huay Sarn Yaw earthquake resistant school in Thailand |
The earthquake resistant Baan Huay Sarn Yaw School in Thailand designed by Vin Varavarn Architects.

Earthquake Resistant Architecture

Nevertheless, out of disaster comes development and innovation. Architects are constantly developing new ways to earthquake-proof buildings, especially in high-risk zones like Japan, the Philippines and the US. And while it’s not possible to build a 100% earthquake-proof house, innovations in improved structural integrity and safety features can go a long way in keeping its occupants safe. When implemented correctly, these developments could save millions of dollars every year, as well as countless lives.


Want to find out more? Read on to learn all about the clever design features of earthquake resistant architecture.

Architecture for Earthquakes

Steel Plate Walls

Building materials are of course a significant factor to consider when designing architecture for earthquakes. And one of the most popular earthquake resistant materials are steel plate shear walls (SPSW).

Earthquake Resistant Architecture | Architecture for Earthquakes | House in Tama Plaza with steel frames |
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SPSW’s are one of the best ways to add integrity in a cost-efficient way. They’re cheaper and quicker to construct than standard concrete walls, and they provide significant protection against earthquakes. In recent years, countries like the US and Japan have used SPSW’s more and more for their stability and versatility. Overall, steel plates both reinforce a wall and ensure that walls can be made more compact. This means that SPSW’s are less likely to crack or collapse in the event of an earthquake.



Waffle Box Technology

Waffle box technology is an affordable building construction system designed to withstand a range of natural disasters, including earthquakes and typhoons.

Earthquake Resistant Architecture | Architecture for Earthquakes | Waffle Box home with black exterior |
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The system was devised in the Philippines and consists of the arrangement of multiple ‘boxes’ to make up one building. A small house will typically be made of three boxes; each box is made from four micro-portal frames which are resistant to extreme winds and quakes. Waffle box homes are portable and can be relocated if necessary. What’s more, they can also be raised from the ground, layered, and expanded into larger properties without losing integrity.

Reinforced Foundations

What better way to ensure a building is as secure as possible than starting from the ground up?

Earthquake Resistant Architecture | Architecture for Earthquakes | Wood houses which flex and bend in earthquakes |

When it comes to earthquake resistant architecture, reinforced foundations are one of the best ways to provide protection. There are various options for reinforcing, including the popular technique of constructing a building so it moves as one with its foundations. Suspending a building above its foundations also works, as does the use of steel-reinforced foundations which work to create a higher level of ductility. When designing architecture for earthquakes, it’s also important to minimize the weight of the building on its foundations. If not, a whole building can be reduced to rubble in seconds.

Seismic Shock Absorbers

As with many innovations in disaster architecture, the military and NASA are the driving forces behind seismic shock absorbers.

Earthquake Resistant Architecture | Architecture for Earthquakes | Skyscrapers in Auckland, New Zealand |

During NASA’s 1969 mission to the moon, a key concern was that of absorbing the shock of the spacecraft’s landing. The weight of such a machine and the force of the impact threatened to destroy it and everyone on board. In response, NASA invented fluidic shock absorbers which worked to dispel the energy of the impact, transforming it into heat instead. Over half a century later, this technology has evolved into seismic shock absorbers or dampers. In earthquake resistant architecture, these protect buildings against the shock of a quake.

Cable Curtains

In recent years, Japan has invented an imaginative way to protect buildings’ integrity in an earthquake: cable curtains.

Earthquake Resistant Architecture | Architecture for Earthquakes | Cable Curtains help protect buildings in earthquakes |
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A cable curtain is essentially a giant curtain of thermo-plastic and carbon-fiber threaded cables designed to surround and protect a building. Although the fibers are much lighter than metal, they’re still as strong as iron. The cables are draped between the roof and the ground, and sometimes inside the building too. If an earthquake should hit, these cables are designed to stretch and respond to the building’s movement, counteracting any shaking and keeping the building standing.

A Note On Old Architecture

Earthquakes are not a recent phenomenon. As such, the idea of earthquake resistant architecture is nothing new. While not all ancient and historical structures have made it to the present day, an impressive number have outlasted multiple earthquakes, begging the question of how?

Earthquake Resistant Architecture | Architecture for Earthquakes | The Old House in Lichtenstein |

The micro-state of Liechtenstein, for instance, has structures dating from as far back as 1200 BC. And even though Liechtenstein is susceptible to earthquakes, the buildings there have stood tall for thousands of years. Architects have studied these structures for clues to explain their survival and realized that the main difference between them and modern buildings is that the floors are not attached to the walls. This allows for greater stability so that when the earthquake shakes the floor, the walls are not forced to shake with it!

With many exciting innovations developing in the world of design, we can’t wait to see what earthquake resistant architecture will look like in the future. How do you think architecture for earthquakes should be improved?


For more like this, have a read of our guide to how architecture adapts for flood zones.


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