Imagining, and Measuring, the Unimaginable

At the Center for Architecture, On View by • 03/05

Humans have been studying earthquakes scientifically for about 2,000 years, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory geophysicist Dr. Klaus Jacob says, ever since Han Dynasty-era polymath Zhang Heng invented the first seismometer so that the Emperor would know about distant earthquakes before the news reached him by messengers on horseback. Now we have multiple networks, like the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, the U.S. Geological Survey, and overseas equivalents, linked and sharing information. Knowing a quake is likely doesn’t equate to predicting its timing, but the state of knowledge about locations, depths, and magnitudes helps the design and construction professions prepare for these probabilistic events and mitigate damage.

Jacob may be better known in recent years as the expert who presciently warned New Yorkers about the risks of flooding, proven accurate in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy. He’s also the first-call seismologist for anyone needing detailed analyses of the risks of a major quake in New York, an event that strikes with far less warning. Jacob spoke at the inaugural panel of the Design for Risk and Reconstruction (DfRR) Committee in October 2011; his return engagement on the first DfRR panel linked with the “Considering the Quake” exhibition reminded the audience that, although we have come to know a great deal about these events, “it’s good… not to talk about the last, but the next disaster.” Jacob and his colleagues know more about these contingencies than most people would want to, at least if they ever wanted to sleep again.

There were 141,478 seismic events detected worldwide between 1960 and 2008 by the Global Seismographic Network, Jacob reported, distributed in a clear nonrandom pattern that has provided information about the movement of tectonic plates and the energy released when they grind together. The edges of the Pacific plate have the highest concentration of events and the severest events, but the Northeast has had multiple quakes over recent decades as well, mostly smaller ones with magnitudes of 5.0 or below, along very old cracks in the crust (particularly the Ramapo Fault system across eastern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey, and Upstate New York). New Yorkers felt the 2011 quake that was epicentered near Richmond, Virginia; East Coast geology makes quakes perceptible and hazardous hundreds of miles from their epicenter, not as localized as western quakes involving softer rock. “It’s a very low rate compared to what happens on a plate boundary, but it cannot be ignored,” he said.

Studies show “a probability within 50 years, sort of a minimum lifetime of a reasonable structure…. By the wisdom of the community in the United States, we’ve decided that 2% in a 50-year chance is sort of an acceptable level to describe the hazard,” Jacob explained. The relative rarity of East Coast quakes, he added, means the records (instrumental data plus anecdotal reports back to 1627) yield information that let us extrapolate a risk of one 6.5-magnitude quake in about 1,000 years, or one 4.9 about every 100 years, with considerable play in the figures. Severe quakes are rare here, not impossible, and the larger exposure area means the hazard is actually proportionately higher, despite the greater absolute rate in the West. This context, Jacob said, explains Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s concerns about hazards to the Indian Point nuclear power plant, built in an era when less local information was available, but now “declared the seismically most vulnerable reactor in the United States.” Earthquakes tend to trigger submarine slides and tsunamis, he added, amplifying concerns over surges like Sandy. Closing with an estimate of the exponentially increasing amounts of debris that would result from quakes of various magnitudes, Jacob exhorted architects to “make sure that this debris is minimized. That’s your task,” achievable only over decades or centuries as the city replaces its building stock.

Sissy Nikolaou, Ph.D., PE, M.ASCE, of Mueser Rutledge and the Geotechnical Extreme Event Reconnaissance (GEER) project, presented dramatic video and still images, including recent material from the Greek island of Cephalonia, where quakes destroy buildings about every 30 years, as well as more publicized events like the 1995 quake in Kobe, Japan. She outlined several prevalent misconceptions (e.g., that the harder rock of the New York area, compared to the younger crust of the West Coast, makes us quakeproof; what it does is transmit shock waves further) and clarified important distinctions, particularly between hazard and risk (the latter involves the economic value of assets destroyed and can be massive in places like New York, which produces 9% of the U.S. economy, even if physical seismic hazard is only moderate). Assessing vulnerability to “the three D’s” of downtime, damage, and death, calls for some counterintuitive recognition, she noted, particularly that “building stronger is not always better.” Protective strategies need to consider soil structure, liquefaction risk, and resonance, ensuring that buildings do not resonate at similar frequencies; a building atop deep, soft deposits is a worst-case scenario, and the Mets’ Citifield – built, she said, on “100 feet of mushy stuff, that when you shake it, behaves like Jello in a bowl” – is consequently designed to an extraordinarily strict seismic standard. Chinatown buildings, too, sited above the Collect Pond once used for potable water, require extra-deep foundations.

Ramon Gilsanz, PE, of Gilsanz Murray Steficek, described seismic events through a musical metaphor: if an earthquake resembles the score, the soil is the player transmitting the vibration, and a building is the instrument that plays it. Engineering approaches to minimizing these destructive performances can recognize a building’s distinctive resonance and plan for damping the “sound” in any of several ways. Chilean engineers, working in a highly vulnerable zone, strengthen buildings with interior shear walls; the Japanese approach is to try to keep the instrument from being played at all by isolating a building’s base from the soil with enormous (and expensive) shock absorbers, aiming to minimize damage enough for nearly immediate occupancy. In the U.S., a cost-effective approach prevails, allowing structures to deform and designing only for life safety, not prompt reoccupancy. Much of the worst damage, Gilsanz noted, occurs after a quake, not during it: in the 1906 San Francisco quake, only 3-5% of the buildings were directly damaged, but fire caused far worse destruction.

SUNY Buffalo civil-engineering chair Andrew Whittaker’s presentation (titled “Won’t Happen Here,” but making no such assertion; a question mark appears implicit) went into detail about the consequences when it does happen. Having lived through two quakes personally in California in 1989 and 1994, he is under no illusions that it is strictly a “left coast problem”. Earthquakes here are inevitable (though perhaps not in any given lifetime), resilience is essential, and the most pressing risk involves “non-engineered building structures,” built before codes were in place or not designed up to code. In New York, unreinforced masonry (URM) is the norm in Federal Era buildings, row houses built between the 1830s and about 1940, many schools, and even firehouses (the risk that firefighters’ own buildings could collapse and trap fire vehicles during a general disaster, he noted, calls for urgent attention). Quake-prone New Zealand, he noted, “substantially underestimated the hazard” before the 2011 Christchurch event, and many URM buildings were damaged to the red-tag level, requiring demolition. Engineered buildings’ protective attributes include lateral resistance, lateral load paths, continuity in floor plates, and redundancy; the Applied Technology Council’s ATC-58 standard, on which Whittaker participated, allows engineers and architects to design for specific levels of risk. An easily overlooked consideration, he added, is the risk from nonstructural components (e.g., ceilings, partitions, elevators, and internal goods), simply “stuff” that also breaks and moves, and that constitutes about 98% of losses in quakes. “Keep in mind,” he noted, “that costs associated with business interruption often far exceed the repair costs.” Imagining a 5.8-magnitude quake striking Manhattan, Whittaker described a staggering cascade of fires, homelessness, impacts on physical infrastructure and social systems, and loss of life.

The Q&A segment included an important and often-overlooked scenario, in a question by DfRR Co-chair Joan Capelin: the phenomenon of induced earthquakes, including those resulting from hydraulic fracturing for fossil fuels as well as quarrying. Both practices have been associated with seismic events, panelists noted, and the fluids pumped into the ground for fracking create additional toxic hazards underground. “When you mess around with Mother Earth,” Jacob summarized, “it often comes around to haunt you if you don’t understand the process.”

Event: Are We on Shaky Ground? Earthquakes and New York City
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.27.2014
Speakers: Dr. Klaus H. Jacob, Geophysicist, Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Dr. Sissy Nikolaou, PE, Senior Associate and Director, Geo-Seismic Department, Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers; Ramon Gilsanz, PE, SEI Fellow, Founding Partner, Gilsanz Murray Steficek (GMS) and Chair, NYC DOB Structural Technical Committee responsible for the 2014 NYC Building Code revision; Dr. Andrew E. Whittaker, Director, SUNY Buffalo (UB) Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research and Chair, UB Department of Civil, Structural & Environmental Engineering
Organizers: Center for Architecture, AIANY Design for Risk & Reconstruction Committee, and the New York–Northeast (NYNE) Chapter of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

"QueensWay Connection: Elevating the Public Realm"
Editor’s Note Editor's Note
(l-r) Ray Beeler, AIA, President of AIA New York State; Kurt Kalafsky, AIA, President of AIA New Jersey; Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, 2014 President of AIANY; and Justin Mihalik, AIA, past President of AIA Newark & Suburban, presented at the Regional Recovery Working Group Workshop. In the foreground: AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee co-chair Illya Azaroff, AIA.
Rhetorically Speaking: Regional Resilience Rhetorically Speaking
Jessica Yager, Policy Director, NYU Furman Center; Jonathan J. Marvel, FAIA, Principal and Founder, Marvel Architects; Howard Slatkin, Director of Strategic Planning and Sustainability, NYC Department of City Planning; and Laurie J. Schoeman, Program Officer, Technical Services, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. discussed recent research and policy that will change the way New York City apartment buildings prepare for disaster at Affording Resilience: Housing Retrofits for Climate Threats Panel on 07.15.14. Mark Ginsberg, FAIA, LEED AP, Partner, Curtis + Ginsberg Architects, moderated the conversation.
Policy Pulse: Design Excellent Policy Pulse
Three pods of dangling cups act as drapes, enveloping visitors.
The Power of Collaboration: The Governor’s Cup Reports from the Field
Life-size active figures hold the exhibition panels, meaning that the space is populated with active individuals leading by example.
FitLondon – London Festival of Architecture 2014 Reports from the Field
Friends and family of Fred Schwartz, FAIA, joined at the Center for Architecture on 06.30.14 to celebrate the citizen architect's life.
THINKing Fred Schwartz At the Center for Architecture
(l-r) Joseph Giovannini, New York Architectural Critic and founder of Giovannini Associates; Thomas de Zengotita,  Professor, Draper Graduate Program, NYU, and the Dalton School; Albert Vecerka, Photographer, ESTO group; Kurt Kohlstedt, Founder, WebUrbanist; and Matthias Hollwich, SBA, Principal, HWKN, co-founder, Architizer
Postcard Identity: Architecture in the Age of Digital Reproduction At the Center for Architecture
(l-r) Matthias Hollwich, AIA, principal, Hollwich Kushner, and co-founder, Architizer; Francesca Birks, AIA, Americas lead, Arup Foresight + Research + Innovation Team; Eric Cohen, AIA, senior associate principal, Ethelind Coblin Architect; Jayne Merkel, architectural historian, critic, and author; Christine Hunter, AIA, LEED AP, principal, Magnusson Architecture & Planning; Lisa Morgenroth,  Assoc. AIA, co-chair, AIANY Design for Aging Committee; Helen Castle, Editor, Architectural Design; and Jerry Maltz, AIA, co-chair, AIANY Design for Aging Committee
Age of Housing At the Center for Architecture
(l-r) Robin Nagle, Associate Professor of Anthropology at NYU, and Anthropologist-in-Residence, NYC Department of Sanitation; Nick Dawber, Managing Director, Energos;  Juliette Spertus, co-founder, Closed Loops; and  Antonio Reynoso, NYC Council Member, District 34, and Chair, Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management
Getting Wasted: AIANY Talks Trash Uncategorized
(l-r) Craig Copeland, AIA, Senior Associate Principal, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects & Sculptor; Paula Scher, Partner, Pentagram & Painter; and Charles Platt, FAIA, Partner, Platt Byard Dovell White Architects & Painter
Culture Mapping: Space and Practice At the Center for Architecture
(l-r) Geoff Lewis, VP of Marketplace Liquidity, Honest Buildings; Brian Newman, Director of Investments, Prodigy Network; Amanda Schachter, AIA, Principal, SLO Architecture; and Matthew Shoor, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Project Manager, Macrae-Gibson Architects, PC
Financial Wizardry in a Digital Age At the Center for Architecture
(l-r) John Boulé, PE, Senior Manager for Priority Project Delivery, Parsons Brinckerhoff; Illya Azaroff, AIA, Founding Co-chair, AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee; Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, 2014 President, AIANY; and Daniel Zarrilli, PE, Director , NYC Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, Acting Director, NYC Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.
Extreme Weather, Recovery and New York’s Future At the Center for Architecture
Gilles Marie-Paul Laheurte (1946-2014)
In Memoriam: Gilles Marie-Paul Laheurte (1946-2014) In Memoriam
A sample of Walter A. Hunt, Jr. Scholarship recipient Farzana Anika's portfolio.
Center for Architecture Foundation Announces First Recipient of the Walter A. Hunt, Jr. Scholarship At the Center for Architecture Foundation
1 - BRAC Brightens The Bronx
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
07.23.14: Call for Entries: AIANY | Center for Architecture’s New York New Design 2014 Subway Show
New Deadlines New Deadlines
“Open to the Public: Civic Space Now” through 09.06.14
On View At the Center for Architecture
06.24.14: AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA; Jessica Yager, policy director at NYU Furman Center; NYC Department of Housing and Preservation Commissioner Vicki Been; and Gary Hattem, president of Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, spoke at the opening of “Affording Resilience: Housing Retrofits for Climate Threats.”
Sighted Sighted
Classifieds Classifieds
AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, received the Edward C. Kemper Award at the AIA Convention.
2014 AIA Convention Special: From Ed Kemper to Ed Mazria, Rick Bell Recognizes Colleagues, Past and Present Reports from the Field
(l-r) Robin Nagle, Associate Professor of Anthropology at NYU, and Anthropologist-in-Residence, DSNY; Nick Dawber, Managing Director, Energos; Juliette Spertus, co-founder, Closed Loops; Antonio Reynoso, NYC Council Member, District 34 and Chair, Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management
Talking Candidly with the City Council: Senior Housing and Waste Management Policy Pulse
AIA President Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, presented the AIANY Post-Sandy Initiative with the 2014 Institute’s Honors for Collaborative Achievement. (l-r) Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, President, AIA; AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee Co-chairs Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, AIANY 2014 President, and Illya Azaroff, AIA; Ernest Hutton, AICP, Assoc. AIA, AIANY Planning and Urban Design Co-chair; Bonnie Harken, AIA, APA, Post-Sandy Waterfront Working Group;  AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA; and Robert Ivy, AIA CEO, AIA.
2014 AIA Convention Special: New Yorkers Acclaimed for Designing with Purpose Reports from the Field
The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.
2014 AIA Convention Special: 11 AIANY Members Inducted into the AIA College of Fellows Reports from the Field
AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA.
2014 AIA Convention Special: Learning from Sandy with Lance Jay Brown, FAIA Reports from the Field
Russel A. Davidson, FAIA, AIA 2015 First Vice President/2016 President-Elect
2014 AIA Convention Special: AIA Elects 2015-2016 Leadership Reports from the Field
K-1 students learned about local landmarks and even created their own blueprints in this 6-week residency.
Looking Back on Another Successful Year for Learning by Design: NY At the Center for Architecture Foundation
1 - A Condo Grows in a Park in Brooklyn
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
07.16.14: Call for Entries: AIANY | Center for Architecture’s New York New Design 2014 Subway Show
New Deadlines New Deadlines
“QueensWay Connection: Elevating the Public Realm” opening 07.17.14
On View: At the Center for Architecture + About Town Uncategorized
06.25.14: At the 2014 AIA Convention in Chicago, the AIA Foundation and Architecture for Humanity, in partnership with NJIT, announced a new regional recovery studio in in Newark, NJ, to aid in regional reconstruction. Many worked hard to make the studio a reality. (l-r) Justin Mihalik, AIA, NCARB, AIA New Jersey; Illya Azaroff, AIA, AIA New York Chapter; John Peterson, AIA, Public Architecture; Eric Cesal, Architecture for Humanity; Sherry-Lea Botop Bloodworth, CFRE, AIA Foundation; Urs Gauchat, Hon. AIA, NJIT; and Thom Delessio, NJIT.
Sighted: At the 2014 Chicago Convention At the Center for Architecture
Classifieds Classifieds
"New York New Design" Subway Show
Editor’s Note Editor's Note
(clockwise from left) William T. Castro, Manhattan Borough Commissioner, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation; NYC Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mitchell Silver; Washington Square Park Conservancy Executive Director Sarah Neilson; and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin.
Washington Squared Rhetorically Speaking
Faith Rose, AIA, Senior Design Liaison, NYC Department of Design + Construction, assists the group working on the Flatlands Library.
Unlocking Potential: Libraries as Hosts for Universal Pre-Kindergarten Policy Pulse
AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA.
Behold City Hall Station Reports from the Field
Antoni Vives i Tomàs, Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, and AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA.
Presenting “Open to the Public: Civic Space Now” At the Center for Architecture
Speakers of the "Open to the Public" symposium and AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA (center).
The Turbulent Possibilities of Public Space At the Center for Architecture
United States – “officeUS” designed by Leong Leong
FUNDAMENTALS: The 14th International Architecture Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia Reports from the Field
Hillary Brown, FAIA, Principal, New Civic Works, and Professor, Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York; and respondent Byron Stigge, Founding Director, Level Agency for Infrastructure
Oculus Book Review: Next Generation Infrastructure by Hillary Brown, FAIA By Annie Coggan Book Reviews
Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works
Oculus Quick Take: Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works Podcast
Lorena del Rio, Iñaqui Carnicero, César Jiménez de Tejada, estudio entresitio, Maria Hurtado de Mendoza, estudio entresitio, Lance Jay Brown FAIA, AIANY 2014 President; Peter Bafitis, AIA, AIANY Housing Committee Co-chair; David Burney, FAIA, AIANY Vice President for Design Excellence; Carmen Espegel, Espegel-Fisac Arquitectos, Fernando Villa, AIA, AIANY Housing Committee Co-chair; and Rick Bell, FAIA, AIANY Executive Director.
Social Housing in Spain At the Center for Architecture
Ronnie Self, Associate Professor of Architecture, Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, University of Houston, discussed "The Architecture of Art Museums: A Decade of Design, 2000-2010."
Typing the Museum At the Center for Architecture
AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA; AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction co-chair Joan Capelin, Hon. AIANY; Samuel Carter, Associate Director, Resilience, The Rockefeller Foundation; and AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee co-chair Illya Azaroff, AIA.
The Rockefeller Foundation and the Road to Resilience At the Center for Architecture
Portfolio excerpt, model; work titled, “blurred lines,” Allwork Scholarship recipient Alex Stewart, Parsons the New School
The Center for Architecture Foundation Announces 2014 Scholarship Recipients At the Center for Architecture Foundation
1 - Post-Disaster Housing Solution
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
New Deadlines New Deadlines
“Open to the Public: Civic Space Now” through 09.06.14
On View: At the Center for Architecture + About Town About Town