February 27, 2014

What’s wrong with this picture?

Build Change


By Gordon Goodell, Build Change Chief Operations Officer
Feb. 27, 2014

Years before I came to Build Change I worked on a mountain rescue team. The first rule for rescue is “My safety, and the safety of my team.” At Build Change we work to limit our risk to the extent possible by ensuring that all buildings we use are seismically safe.

By the nature of what we do, most of our staff at Build Change spend a lot of time in zones of high seismic hazard. We make our best effort to ensure that offices and other buildings rented by Build Change are seismically safe. We designed and implemented a seismic retrofit of our office in Port-au-Prince because we had concerns about its safety.

The photo is of the apartment/office we rented in Bogotá, Colombia while we are teaching Colombian engineers to retrofit houses. For various reasons we had to rent it for a month without seeing it first, and this is a good example of why we try not to do this. The first night we were all awakened by the building shaking when a big truck or bus went by. When we looked closely at the building we realized that it has a classic open story configuration flaw, common in multi-story apartment buildings with a parking garage on the ground floor.

This building has huge overhangs on two sides and not nearly enough shearwalls on three sides, creating a situation where the upper five floors can rotate as a unit, even under the small load of passing traffic. Imagine what would happen in an earthquake!

We will not be extending our stay in this particular building, but we have discussed with the building owner how to go about fixing his problem, protecting his investment and keeping his tenants safe.

Support resilient housing worldwide

Join us in preventing housing loss caused by disasters and climate-induced events.

Donate now


Sign up for our newsletter to receive updates on our latest news, events, and more.