Seismic issues generating architecture

Travellers on the second path of earthquake architecture explore numerous ways that metaphor and symbolism can inform architectural responses to seismic issues. Christopher Arnold cites the example of the Peter Eisenman designed Nunotani Headquarters Building in Tokyo, completed in 1992 (Fig. 17.8) . Disjointed and displaced façade elements were intended to 'represent a metaphor for the waves of movement as earthquakes periodically compress and expand the plate structure of the region' .4 Once aware of the design idea, one can perceive seismic activity in main elevations of the building; but some viewers might interpret the architectural distortions as either evidence of seismic damage itself or even incompetent construction. It is not known to what extent the unusual form of the building that responded admirably to the client's brief for an 'aggressive, contemporary image' , contributed to its demolition only eight years later.7

▲ 17.9 Concept plan of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.

(Reproduced with permission from Pete Bossley).

▲ 17.9 Concept plan of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.

(Reproduced with permission from Pete Bossley).

▲ 17.10 An exterior view of the Museum of New Zealand showing the penetrated 'wall' that symbolizes an adjacent fault line, Wellington.

A lesser known example of seismic issues informing architectural design occurs in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington. The design architect explains:

The need for direct connections ... in turn led to the introduction of the idea of geological power/Ruaumoko [the Maori god of earthquakes and volcanoes] expressed as a mighty Wall slicing diagonally through the building. This symbolic fault line (parallel to the actual earthquake fault line nearby, on the western side of the harbour) created a fissure of space which houses the newly created Entry from the city (Figs 17.9 and I7.I0).8

More so than the first example in this section, it is unlikely that visitors to the building mentally link the primary architectural element; in this case, a highly penetrated wall, with the underlying concept - a fault line. Perhaps if the concept had been developed further by incorporating other references to fault movements, such as vertical displacement and a non-vertical fault-plane orientation, less interpretation would be needed. However, the fact remains that seismic issues have provided the inspiration for an innovative architectural design concept.

Countless other metaphors are possible sources of design ideas for architects who desire to recognize, to some degree at least, tectonic activity adjacent to their site and who are grappling with the development of building form. Apart from ideas of crustal compression and expansion, a fuller list includes slicing, fragmentation (also acknowledged in the Te Papa design), splitting, fracturing, sliding, folding and faulting. Geological metaphors have also been adopted by architects in non-seismic regions and developed into central design concepts.

A design studio program at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Architecture provides another example of how seismic issues generate innovative architectural form. In 2002 a group of eight fourth-year students participated in a studio program centred upon ' how notions of earthquake architecture could inform the design proc-ess'.9 After researching earthquake effects and actions, and considering them as architectural propositions, various design ideas were identified, some of which are listed below.

Geology and seismology

• Seismic waves

• Earthquake-affected landforms

• Contrast between geological and seismograph time-scales

Construction issues

• Post-earthquake propping

• Tying elements together

• Post-earthquake ruins

• Seismic resisting technology and componentry

• Contrast between gravity and seismic resisting structure

Other earthquake-related ideas

• Temporary buildings for disaster relief

• Seismograph

• Expression of structural actions

• Brittle behaviour

• Plastic behaviour

Ideas not specifically related to earthquakes

• Healing processes like scabs that form after an injury

• External forces acting on a building

• Insecurity

• Preparedness

• Engineer-architect relationship

After students tested one of their ideas in the context of a small public building - a suburban library - they designed a more complex building.

▲ 17.11 The building form expresses earthquake damage and subsequent repair/propping.

(Reproduced with permission from Luke Allen).

▲ 17.11 The building form expresses earthquake damage and subsequent repair/propping.

(Reproduced with permission from Luke Allen).

▲ 17.12 One section of the final design model.

(Reproduced with permission from Lebbeus Woods).

▲ 17.12 One section of the final design model.

(Reproduced with permission from Lebbeus Woods).

Adopting another of their ideas, they had to develop its architectural potential. The brief required a medium-rise building on an urban corner site to accommodate purpose-designed offices for an innovative earthquake engineering consultancy. Figure 17.11 illustrates one of the student schemes.

At a more theoretical level, Lebbeus Woods draws upon earthquake destruction in his investigations of architectural transformation.10 He begins with abstract sketches reminiscent of a featureless landscape subject to extreme lateral-spreading or littered by post-tsunami debris. Shard-like forms that convey fracturing, fragmentation and catastrophic movement are then expressed by line drawings. A dense pattern of straight lines devoid of any orthogonality loses none of its expression of the flow of debris. These patterns are then physically modelled. They read as a dense and chaotic cityscape consisting of thin slithers of buildings separated by similarly shaped interstices (Fig. 17.12). Alluding to damage caused by the 1994 Northridge and the 1995 Kobe earthquakes Woods explains the background and aims of the project:

'In the light of the consistent failure of leading societies such as the United States and Japan to build effectively against earthquake, it is reasonable to reconsider the dominant philosophies, techniques and goals of building and urban design in earthquake regions. As at this writing, such a reconsideration by architects and planners has hardly begun. Few efforts go beyond the defensive "reinforcement" of existing conceptual and physical structures, or have the ambition to open up genuinely new possibilities for architecture in relation to the earth's continuing process of transformation'.10

While this work is certainly an exciting visual exploration of how earthquake destruction can be transformed into architectural form, its outcome is unsatisfactory from a seismic safety perspective. Narrow streets and slender shard-like buildings are the antithesis of sound seismic design principles. The value of the project lies in its challenge to others to undertake their own ' reconsiderations'. Other creative methods and attempts need to explore the possibilities for a radical architecture that not only expresses seismicity in an aesthetic sense but is inherently more seismically resilient.

Arata Isozaki's Japanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale: sixth International Architecture Exhibition, 1996, provides another example of seismic issues informing non-built architecture. Responding to the theme of 'The Architect as Seismograph' Isozaki devotes the entire pavilion to what was then the very recent devastating Kobe earthquake. In his response titled ' Fractures', noted by one reviewer as 'an act of caustic irony' , mounds of post-earthquake debris are supplemented by photographs of damaged buildings. Commenting upon the exhibition, Isozaki states:

'... I feel this focus on the ravages of the hard-hit city, rather than on some optimistic architectural proposal, to be a more accurate expression of the state of Japanese architecture today'.11

Luis Fernandez-Galiano takes a very different stance. He sees instability of architectural form, a possible earthquake architecture concept, as a potential form of therapy. Accordingly, he perceives buildings like, for example, the CCTV Headquarters, Beijing (Fig. 6.25) that appear to be unstable, as sending out a reassuring message:

'... if we can make these impossible forms stand, so will we manage to keep a fragile world stable like a vaccine that injects debilitated pathogenic germs into the organism, unstable architecture provokes small commotion, controllable fractures and tamed calamities that feign danger through fatal forms and cauterize anxiety through cautious catharsis'.12

Architects are able to explore a large range of seismic-related issues in order to develop and enrich their architecture. Design possibilities in many different areas and scales of architectural practice abound.

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