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Engineers Design Tsunami-Resistant Homes

May 27, 2005

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Not long after the devastating December tsunami, a team of structural engineers from London visited Sri Lanka and noticed a trend as they surveyed destroyed homes: Walls facing the sea were leveled, while those perpendicular to it were standing.

That inspired a group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University to design what they’re calling a “tsunami-safe(r) house” that is less likely to collapse under wind and pounding surf.

Instead of having four solid walls, the tsunami-resistant houses have thick concrete-block corners and exterior walls made of bamboo. The houses, about 80 of which have already been built, are designed to be built on top of blocks of concrete or wood, one or two feet above the ground.

The design allows waves to wash through the bamboo walls while the concrete structure of the house remains standing, said Carlo Ratti, director of MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory.

“Of course, you would have water in the house, and there is no way to avoid that, but the houses will be much more resilient,” Ratti said.

Buro Happold, a London-based engineering firm, used computer models to show that the houses would be five times more resistant to a tsunami than Sri Lanka’s traditional homes.

“When the wave comes through, the water flushes everything out, but the walls remain standing,” said Domenico del Re, a structural engineer at Buro Happold.

The design is for a home measuring about 400 square feet that would cost roughly $1,200 to build. It was designed to be made from materials readily available in Sri Lanka.




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