Earthquake scandals

Another scandal is surfacing regarding falsified building designs for earthquake resistance. This time it’s an architect in Sapporo, Hokkaido. This does not surprise me at all.

When I first heard of the Aneha scandal, another architect who did the same thing for hotels and condominiums, I knew it was just the tip of the iceberg.

To be sure, laws have been broken and unethical practices have come to light. As a result, some of the defective buildings are slated to be torn down and rebuilt. That’s fine, but the fact remains that most buildings in Japan are still vulnerable to catastrophic earthquakes.

Traditional Japanese homes, temples (except pagodas), and shrines made of wood are death traps during powerful quakes. But ironically, no one is clamoring for them to be torn down and rebuilt. In Jan. 1995, I visited Kobe 10 days after the deadly earthquake that killed over 5,000. (My photos here.)

There was a definite and obvious pattern to how and which buildings collapsed. The traditional Japanese houses made of wood and kawara tile roofs hardly stood a chance withstanding the quake. The 2nd floor collapsed onto the first floor. I was shocked to see such destruction since most of my relatives and friends in Japan live in such homes.

Multi-story apartment buildings and office buildings made of concrete also collapsed, usually on the ground floor or on a floor halfway up the building. The buildings which had a parking space on the ground floor supported by stilt-like columns collapsed on that floor. Such buildings are so common in Japan. Without ample supporting walls, those stilts ain’t strong enough in a strong earthquake. I would avoid living in such buildings. Not only that, damaged columns supporting the bullet train tracks revealed large pieces of wood mixed in the concrete. Somebody tried to reduce the amount of concrete in the pillars with the wood. It obviously weakened the strength of the pillar. Watered-down concrete is also another cost-reduction measure known to exist.

Since it’s near impossible and impractical to tear down and rebuild all of Japan’s vulnerable buildings, there should be a national program to reinforce homes and buildings to at least not collapse on the occupants. Since the Kobe quake, I’ve noticed highways and subway stations being reinforced. The same should be implemented for homes. Although the media attention focuses on the current architect design scandals, they are missing the bigger picture.

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