Building For Resilience: After The Tsunami A look at disaster recovery and earthquake technology in Japan.


Traditional farmhouses, called kominga, use a similar construction method to the temples. Engineer Shizuka Nagasaka is a specialist in repairing kominga. These houses, many hundreds of years old, were designed not to collapse in a typhoon or earthquake. We visit one near Nara where Nagasaka is working on strengthening the floor. He is also installing a new strengthening technique based on an old design. It is simple but elegant: An internal door with a latticed frame separates the outer porch from the inner sanctum. The seismic lattice frame, as it is called, slots together perfectly, without the need for nails or glue. It is decorative, and can be covered by fabric, like a shoji screen. It also makes the whole house stronger. Its strength comes from the natural resilience of timber. It flexes both laterally and vertically in an earthquake, adding structural support.

While the ancient Japanese evidently knew a thing or two about building to resist earthquakes, their descendants have been harnessing advances in science to come up with new solutions.

In the capital we discover some of the latest developments in earthquake technology. Nobukazu Matsudo, president of Upcon Corporation, has a company logo bearing the legend, “Raising Up Japan.” A former architect who lived in Sydney, Australia, Matsudo decided to launch his company after the deadly 1995 Kobe earthquake. The aim is to fix buildings that have been hit by liquefaction. Piles are driven down several feet beneath the concrete floor. Polyurethane resin is then injected around the piles and gradually expands, raising the building up. Before and after pictures graphically show the dramatic transformation.

Matsudo gives us a small-scale demonstration on a model. He says while his is not the only company practicing this technology, it does require considerable expertise. Upcon Corporation has successfully re-leveled 960 structures, including houses, airports, and roads.