Buildings Need Help, Now More Than Ever


What is this about…

I decided to work on the idea of seeing where buildings are lacking in secureness of natural disasters in California and how can they be improved in order to make bigger buildings and homes safe. California is known for earthquakes and wildfires and with so many happening and that are expected to occur, we need to be ready for them. California struggles with the effects of natural disasters and major damage to buildings that should not happen. Seeing how buildings work with its environment is something I’ve gotten interested in and which is why I chose to focus my research project on the architectural safety of buildings in California on the effects of natural disasters.

This information provoked my interest…

Currently, the stats coming from, Seismologist Lucy Jones are “thought provoking” as we see how overtime, building codes and regulations have bettered but creates an economic dip in Los Angeles if major damage were to hit that city, “1933 saw 115 deaths and $50 million in damage… in 1994, 57 and $40 billion”(Measure). Like she says in an interview, “Los Angeles’s [building codes] are designed to make sure you don’t die… as you can see in the declining death toll, but it ignores the economic impacts”(Measure). With the economic problem after buildings break down, it only makes the expected large earthquake in California scarier. Stated by Lucy Jones, “The San Andreas produces only strong quakes– on average, 160 years apart, meaning the next is well overdue”(Measure). Unless simulation are done or until we have that large earthquake we won’t be able to determine the best ways to reinforce buildings for these types of events. We need that experience in order to work from our mistakes; which will never be perfected because these things are unexpected. Both earthquakes and fires can either be large in terms of the damage done by them or how much they travel and span out.

The history of buildings being damaged by earthquakes…

In this smaller article, it mentions the highly devastating situation that occured, “The colossal pillars supporting the arches at the entrance fell into the avenue far out across the car tracks… thousands of tons of bricks and debris that followed them piled into a mountainous heap… the huge steel frame stood gaping until the fire that swept from the Hayes Valley set the debris ablaze and hid the structure in a cloud of smoke… Nothing remains but a ghastly past of the once beautiful structure” (The Call-Chronicle-Examiner). This is just one building of the many buildings that failed to withstand the shake and fires that came after, “The City Hall is a complete wreck… Every document of the City government is destroyed” (The Call-Chronicle-Examiner). City Hall is such an important place that holds important people and information and with its lack of building safety regulations, the place crumbled into debris that eventually burned.

Los Angeles decided to look towards the future in order to prevent and fix errors in buildings that had been made in other cities like San Francisco.. Los Angeles took a big step forward by passing the 1933 Riley Act that was created to reinforce buildings to prevent any lateral movement caused by any earthquake activity(Cutcliffe). Another Act was made to help out guide builders with school building reinforcements in order to protect anyone inside of them at all times. Colleges and other buildings that were made for education were required to have updated their buildings following the Field Act. At first, it was a plan to figure things out and see what things and ideas worked out. The Field Act has followed some stricter rules and regulations that help keep schools’ buildings upright when hit by an earthquake of a decent magnitude (State of California State Seismic Safety Commission). Because of badly built brick buildings, it led California Legislature to pass the Field Act which was made to help school buildings by “enhanc[ing] lateral force design standards” for future earthquakes(Cutcliffe).

What we know today…

Making homes that are super anti-wildfire and anti-earthquake is easy but it’s not as simple as it seems because of the cost. This is something that California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, says and elaborates on, “Yes we need good building standards… But when you say more building standards, I always want to say let’s do this very carefully because it is complex. That does raise costs. So we have to protect, but I want to do it in the wisest way possible” (Gabar). Being wise about these building safety decisions is looking for all possible errors, specifically money. As stated, “Fire-resistant materials and building techniques can increase the cost of construction” (Gabar). A big problem with the spreading of fires is not just the buildings and how they are built but because of weak windows being make that will melt and the electrical will melt which will weaken the survival length of these buildings.

With all these natural disasters, many people might think that we are doomed… That may not be the case for everyone. California, specifically the “Los Angeles County Fire Department” has conducted a lot of research on making sure people’s lives are safe. Malibu, California is a dangerous spot for its high risk of wildfires which is why the residential areas have really strict building codes because its vital and will result in fines if not followed correctly and up to date (Adler). In order to make the fires not expand, people are can start of by “Setting up a defensible perimeter can seem like an arduous task, but ‘actually, it’s pretty easy,’ said Jack Cohen, a researcher with the Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Mont. In addition to making a home accessible to firetrucks, Cohen stressed two measures: removing excessive vegetation within 200 feet of a house, and replacing wooden roof shingles with nonflammable ones” (Adler). This can make the difference between a completely devastated home and a minorly damaged home. In the recent Paradise fire, a couple, Jeff and Cathy Moore took their time removing the brush around their home which allowed for their home to be safe (Kaplan). Because of the precautions they took, they are not apart of the “80 percent of homes [that] where destroyed” (Kaplan). The main reason for these homes burning down and completely being destroyed was because they had “homes with flammable roofs and open vents that allowed in smoldering material, turning them into death traps” (Kaplan).

What things can we do…

There are multiple ways in order to solve the issue: Use non inflammable materials(specifically the roof of your building), remove brush 100-200 feet away from the building you are in to lessen the risk of expanding a fire, supporting both the National Fire Safety Council and Applied Technology Council. These are all things you as a reader can do in order to lessen the risk of your life and the people around you. On a bigger scale, the idea I propose is to reward people for their efforts in trying to be safer. This idea goes back to how California treated their people during the drought which was giving a household a chance of reimbursement if you changed your water needing grass to turf (California). With my idea, If you give evidence of any house improvement that could go towards the safety of your area or building, you could get reimburse. To give you and idea, “Projects from ¼ to ½ an acre may be eligible for funding up to $20,000 in materials per project, and labor is provided by the CCC at no cost to the applicant. Applicants may also apply for multiple projects” (California). This will allow you to get something back for doing something good. The less we have to worry about a fire spreading further or a building breaking down and endangering the people in it, will make it safer for both the people around you and the first responders.

To go more in depth, limit the amount a wildfire spreads is by removing or taking all the brush from the trees around your home and giving your home a barrier (Kaplan). There is more of a chance that your home will not get hit by a fire and the fire will spread less. Though this may not be changing the building in a form, but it will limit the risk of the building having to deal with meeting all the requirements to any building safety codes is something that should always be followed especially in large buildings or offices (State of California State Seismic Safety Commission). This is the least you can do just to ensure the building you are living or working in, is safe. In order to do something bigger, I would work and contact with someone higher up, like, Richard. J McCarthy who is the executive director at California’s Seismic Safety Commision (Seismic Safety Commission). I would talk to Mr. McCarthy in order to make these building safety codes not only be required in California so that more people can be safe from these disasters. We can spread the word about the problems that are occurring in California and help buildings from breaking down during the natural occurrences. The amount of unsafe buildings can be reduced by accessing the weakest points in buildings of its current state in order to know where to reinforce any weak or access points that can be affected by both earthquakes and wildfires in the area.  We have learned from our mistakes and continue to test new things. Now that we have built a strong sense of what we can do in order to prevent such disasters, we need to spread the word. B

Video on New California Based Architecture:

I believe that accessing buildings can be time consuming but will help the people in them, architects & engineers for future building projects, and overall safety. The amount of damage and risks of buildings is a big problem today and is going to be something of great importance to everyone.


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  1. April 25, 2019 by Siena.Martin

    David, prior to the most recent California wildfires I did not realize that you could make houses “fireproof”. I loved your project and I found it super interesting and helpful. I wonder how much income effects the standards of building because I would assume that people who are more well off could afford to “earthquake proof” and “fireproof” but they are also the ones who could afford to rebuild their house should something happen.

  2. May 02, 2019 by George.Downs

    I really appreciated the tips and the very well researched background. I had a close friend who lost his whole house in one of the recent California fires, unfortunately, so I am intrigued by any efforts to prevent future events like these.

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