By Kiran Bashir Ahmad using information provided by Prof. Kausar Bashir Ahmad
The recent earthquakes and floods are an eye opener for the general public to wake up to the dangers of building with carelessness. The local authorities, designers, architects, builders and developers need to actively ensure safety in building design and construction and implement important measures before any type of calamity strikes, from tremors to earthquakes, floods, typhoons or even fire.
1) The Local Authority must formulate and implement bylaws and insist on carrying out necessary soil testing to check the load bearing capacity at site, perform quality check of material and workmanship according to weather conditions at the time of construction.
2) People should demand adoption and incorporation of all the earthquake proof measures from their architects and builders.
3) As professionals the architects and engineers should abide by the provisions of necessary byelaws e.g. the rules for an open fire escape in buildings, staircases at proper distances, and the zoning byelaw, which has a height restriction according to the load bearing capacity of the soil. Flagrancy of the byelaws by payment of fine and regularization of the number of additional floors could lead to unmitigated disaster.
4) The building team must ensure the use of proper quality materials including fresh cement and steel bars, as per building regulations.
5) The architects, structural engineers and designers must use necessary measures such as earthquake friendly grid pattern designs for structural stability and shear walls etc.
For a layman, the following checks are important.
1) Remind your designers and builders to take the aforementioned necessary measures at the initial level of construction.
2) Even though you may not have technical knowledge, your insistence shall ultimately create right conditions and proper implementation of safety measures.
3) Some common concepts to understand are
Any masonry work without Mortar (joining plaster) is of potential danger.
RCC (reinforced cement concrete) needs a ‘solid frame’ system with right size of columns and beams, proper foundation depths for use of raft slabs or pile foundations etc.
If the ground conditions warrant, the single most important aspect of failures against the disaster, may be because of faulty construction techniques and poor quality of building materials, especially the cement and steel bars.
In case of high plazas, the designer has to ensure provision of devices like Shear walls, etc., to ensure structural behaviour of buildings.
Engineers and architects tend to over-design on the pretext of or due to clients’ demands. Know that giving minimum acceptable sizes of structure to avoid cracks in beams and buckling of columns can lessen the weight of the structure.