Mind & Matter


Could Natural Disasters Motivate Us to Build Differently?

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A map depicting more extreme temperatures in the U.S. Red equals warmer than normal, blue equals cooler. Image courtesy of NASA.


The collection of massive tornados that plowed through the southeastern U.S. recently left more than debris and ruined neighborhoods in its wake. Questions about climate change have predictably resurfaced, in addition to speculation about how to prepare for another event of similar magnitude in the future.

Although extreme natural disasters are nothing new, the increasing frequency and severity of such events is sound cause for concern. "By now, most people get that you can't attribute any single weather event on global warming," said John Nielson-Gammon, the state climatologist for Texas. "But some things are clear: temperatures have been going up, and models all agree that the temperature rise will continue unless we get some massive volcanic eruptions or the sun suddenly becomes much dimmer."

Architects and contractors will be motivated by the storm that killed 300 people in Alabama and nearby states and other natural disasters to design and construct more resilient buildings—particularly after the publicity concerning the flimsiness of contemporary residential construction. Threats posed by extreme weather will also motivate the development of more resilient products and building codes, as seen in the hurricane-proofing strategies employed in newer Florida housing.

Planning and development also deserve deeper assessment. One reason for the increased frequency of disasters is simply due to the fact that there is a greater area of inhabited development than has previously existed. The suburban expansion, which has deployed human settlement like a vast, low-lying carpet across the landscape, has effectively elevated the chances of damage caused by tornadic activity to buildings and infrastructure. As insurance companies will confirm, there are real economic as well as environmental limits to such development strategies. Future development will need to be more consolidated, robust, and resilient to protect against tornadoes and other extreme climatological events.



Comments (3 Total)

  • Posted by: Shaun S | Time: 3:35 PM Friday, July 22, 2011

    I'm not a novice when it comes to disasters. Living in Southern California, my family and I have had to be wary of protecting our home from careless mistakes and burning disasters. There have been more than a few close calls and the thing that has helped ease my mind the most is having a detailed home inventory list. Most homeowners don’t realize that an itemized list is required by your insurer after a loss. Plus, by compiling a list before a disaster actually struck, I was able to realize that I was actually under insured! That's when I started looking into preparing BEFORE disaster would strike. DocuHome is the leading brand name when it comes to home inventory software. Do yourself, your family and your friends a favor and forward them this link to a FREE subscription to DocuHome. You might just end up being a hero! http://docuhome.com/index.asp?action=POPSIGNUP&PromoCode=TXSHAUN

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 10:01 AM Saturday, June 11, 2011

    You are correct Blain, and I couldn't agree more. Stronger structures are obviously going to assist so many different area's (Insurance costs, rebuilding, loss of life, etc). And we should evolve our thinking process of (re)building to protect us from the storms that happen annually. Check out what the company r-evolutionliving.com has come up with; fantastic & exactly what we need in this nation. Hopefully their determination will be contagious to our countrymen. Sincerely yours, Reese Mates

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 1:56 PM Wednesday, May 04, 2011

    Disasters have been occurring for a long time, a lot of them in the same places. It goes against all reason when you see the CNN video of a torn up house and a family sitting there surrounded by there lives when the reporter asks the people, "what will you do now?" and the reply is "rebuild, my family has been here for generations, this is our home." We are smart enough to know where the hot spots are in the USA for disasters to occur, yet we keep on living there. Building better structures will not help divert the disaster, it might help you weather the storm. Every time something like this happens people always point to shoddy workmanship, and they are right! But when people always hunt for a deal, don not care about quality, and low bid always wins what do they expect. I will quote another famous blogger "I don't care what it costs, how much we have to pay in taxes, or who runs it" Build it right, move your address and stop complaining. It is just like the stock market, you know the risks, do not cry to me when the 401k runs out. - WN

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.