Those aren’t cities. THIS is a city. Tokyo.

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Er, no. We design tall buildings to flex during earthquakes at two levels. One is very minor – the building sways for a while, initially absorbing some of the energy, then dispersing it over hours. At the second level, buildings permanently deform. We design in structural connections, typically with steel, which deform in controlled ways, under high loads. This is very comparable to how cars have “crumple zones” to protect occupants during crashes. We do this to prevent the two “killers” in earthquakes – building collapse and fires.

And similar to a car where its crumple zones have been crumpled, buildings that have deformed in this way during an earth quake are “totaled”. In part, that’s because the structural frame has been damaged (intentionally), but it’s also because of the amount of damage done throughout the building. The structural frame is the minority of the cost of a building. All the other stuff (windows, interior finishes, pipes/ducts, etc.) make up the majority of the cost, and when a building is subjected to such high loads that parts of its frame deform, there will be extensive damage to those other elements.

Better structural frames – both stronger and better at crumpling to deal with the physical loads of the earthquake – won’t save the expensive stuff, so buildings will still be totaled in strong earthquakes, but fewer people will be hurt/killed.

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