Wise man builds his house upon the web
Online encyclopedia aims to make homes earthquake-proof.
13 September 2002

The encyclopedia describes nearly 80 types of houses in 30 countries
© EERI/IAEE Encyclopedia

A growing online encyclopedia of houses in earthquake-prone areas should help engineers to make buildings safer.

In an earthquake, houses suffer more damage than other structures because they are often built using cheap materials and shoddy methods. "There can be huge loss of life," says Marjorie Greene of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) in Oakland, California. "Improving housing could make a big difference."

To encourage engineers to make these improvements, the EERI, along with the International Association of Earthquake Engineering, last month launched an encyclopedia of the world's housing structures. Efforts to gather and distribute the information started in early 2000.

The encyclopedia now describes nearly 80 types of house in 30 countries, Greene told the European Conference on Earthquake Engineering in London this week. Dwellings listed range from mud huts in Malawi to tower blocks in Chile.

Each entry details the building's architecture, materials and construction - including any earthquake-proofing. It also describes the houses' cost, insurance, how well they hold together in earthquakes, and what type of damage they sustain.

Improving housing could save lives
© EERI/IAEE Encyclopedia

This information is otherwise hard to come by. There is a book encyclopedia of the world's vernacular architecture, but it costs US$900 - the new online encyclopedia is free. All the reports are written by volunteers, and are reviewed before publication.

About 150 people already use the encyclopedia each day. "People are using it to see how similar buildings are constructed in other countries," says Greene. An engineer in Malawi, for example, has tapped into Indian expertise.

Over the next 2-3 years, the number of entries should rise to around 150, says EERI vice-president Svetlana Brzev. At the moment the encyclopedia lacks houses from such quake-stricken countries as Japan and Mexico.

© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2002

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