Alfonso Ramirez Marchena provides a personal account and some key insights, shared by speakers at the recently held Seismic Summit, regarding building conservation and post-disaster reconstruction



In spring 2018, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Ireland in association with DIT, hosted a Seismic Summit at Wood Quay Venue, Dublin City Council Civic Offices. This event was part of ‘Build Solid Ground’, a three-year project funded by the EU which aims to inform and actively engage citizens in actions towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11.

Alfonso Ramirez Marchena, Arup, provides a personal account of the event and some key insights shared by the speakers regarding building conservation, seismic engineering and post-disaster reconstruction.

Earthquake retrofit of historic structures and conservation of masonry buildings

The first speaker was Randolph Langenbach from Conservationtech. A former assistant professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, he has more than 40 years of experience in the field of building conservation, earthquake retrofit of historic structures, conservation of masonry buildings, post‐disaster damage assessment and repair.

He spoke of his experience on many projects and the places he visited in the immediate aftermath of earthquakes including Turkey, India, Iran, Kashmir and Afghanistan. He showcased numerous pictures portraying his analysis of the different kinds of traditional structures that he found during his travels and research.

Without using overly technical language or illustrations, Langenbach described his experience of finding similar situations with similar results, from both mishaps and success stories in different parts of the world.

He finished up by showing photos which revealed how frequently reinforced concrete (RC) buildings have failed during earthquakes, while traditional structures didn’t collapse.

Martijn Schildkamp from Smart Shelter Foundation was the second speaker. An architect, engineer and founder of three Smart Shelter divisions with a passion for alternative materials and experimental construction techniques, Schildkamp has researched, designed and built numerous projects in Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Indonesia.

Researching the seismic behaviour through new systems

He spoke about his experience of building in Nepal, researching the seismic behaviour through new systems and sometimes using trial-error analysis, a concept which he called ‘non-engineered building techniques’.

He and the rest of his team built schools using Nepali and Indian standards only as a base guide, as they explored new methods better able to withstand the seismic activity prevalent in the area. Schildkamp  revealed that each of the 17 schools that he designed and built with his team in Nepal survived the 2015 earthquake. Some had minor cracks but most of them were not damaged.

Kubilây Hiçyilmaz from Arup’s Amsterdam office was the third and final speaker. He is technical director for large seismic projects at Arup and works on complex performance-based structures and retrofitting buildings to improve their life-safety performance.

Extensive background in large projects and big structures

His speech was also inspiring and covered his extensive background in large projects and big structures; he also elaborated on how he has worked with the latest technology. He spoke of the benefits of working for a big company with teams made up of talented people in the area and having the latest technology at your fingertips, all of which are a big help when trying to develop an understanding of the behaviour of structures in the event of an earthquake.

L-R; Dr Sean O’Hogain (DIT), Kubilây Hiçyilmaz (Arup), Martijn Schildkamp (Smart Shelter), Randolph Langenbach, Conservationtech

Alongside his knowledge, his passion for ‘seismic structures’ and his levels of awareness about how people live in earthquake-prone areas were evident in the manner in which he questioned how we can build a 40-floor building in Japan, for example, which is able to resist an earthquake but “we can’t” provide a solution for single-storey constructions in rural areas.

Project SMARTnet

This last point is something that Smart Shelter Foundation and Engineers Without Borders are trying to address with their project SMARTnet.

The speakers highlighted many of the basics of seismic engineering in order to ensure successful projects, including the following:
• Simple shapes/separate volumes;
• Proportional sizes;
• The importance of listening to and engaging with local people before trying to teach them anything. The speakers felt that we can learn a lot from the local population and gain an understanding of their traditional construction mechanisms;
• Good practices during construction and using good-quality materials;
• Consideration that traditional construction systems in different parts of the world are used for different reasons and purposes. Solutions using reinforced concrete are showing weaknesses in some circumstances;
• The lack of reliable regulations in many developing regions.

The conference focused on the importance of understanding the particularities and traditional techniques prevalent in each area affected by earthquakes and poverty. This approach allows us to learn from local people before applying our knowledge, resulting in a better solution guided by traditional construction techniques.

Author: Alfonso Ramirez Marchena, Arup O'RiordanCivilArup,civil,conservation
In spring 2018, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Ireland in association with DIT, hosted a Seismic Summit at Wood Quay Venue, Dublin City Council Civic Offices. This event was part of 'Build Solid Ground', a three-year project funded by the EU which aims to inform and actively engage citizens in...