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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sandy and Our Building Structures

An interesting conversation came up during the Q&A session of a panel discussion that I presented at last week: Sustainable Building & Energy Infrastructure Forum 2013

In regards to natural disasters and #SuperStormSandy, a gentleman in the audience was stating that if we build our buildings with more substantial structural materials (concrete, brick, steel, etc.) like European countries, our cities and buildings could potentially be more resilient to hurricanes and storms such as #Sandy. The counter-argument from my dear colleague Steven Winter, president of Steven Winter Associates Inc., was that structures with lighter materials (wood, foam, drywall, etc.) are more manageable during disasters like earthquakes and fires i.e. the big earthquake in Los Angeles, CA. Indeed, both are quite valid arguments. 

As super storm #Sandy has definitely become a wake-up call for our local/national governments, as well as the sustainability/architecture/engineering industries, should we start rethinking not only the way we 'design' our cities and buildings, but also, the materials we 'build' them with?
My [partial] response to the gentleman in the audience was that: Its tricky. I come from Iran, and 10 years ago we had a devastating earthquake in the southeast region originating from a small suburban city, Bam, leading to a death toll of 26,000+ and some 30,000+ injured. Had it not been for the heavy and "substantial" building structures of brick and concrete, perhaps numerous civilians and children could have survived under the ruins. On the other hand, if the houses in Far Rockaway, Queens, NY, or Staten Island, NY, most of which were located along the waterfront, had a stronger and more resilient structure, perhaps the aftermath of #Sandy wouldn't have been so destructive and devastating. 

Granted, we wont know what to expect and be prepared for unless we experiences it once, unfortunately. 

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