Looking Back: What Ancient Structures Tell Us About Earthquake-Safe Construction

Built in 607 A.D., Japan’s 122-ft.-tall Horyu-ji temple is one of the oldest wooden structures in the world, and has survived almost 50 earthquakes at magnitudes of 7.0 and greater.

📅   Thu November 09, 2017 - National Edition
Emily Buenzle


Built in 607 A.D., Japan's 122-ft.-tall Horyu-ji temple is one of the oldest wooden structures in the world, and has survived almost 50 earthquakes at magnitudes of 7.0 and greater, the New York Daily News reported.
Built in 607 A.D., Japan's 122-ft.-tall Horyu-ji temple is one of the oldest wooden structures in the world, and has survived almost 50 earthquakes at magnitudes of 7.0 and greater, the New York Daily News reported.

A 1,410-year-old building is a key resource for modern-day earthquake-safe building methods.

Built in 607 A.D., Japan's 122-ft.-tall Horyu-ji temple is one of the oldest wooden structures in the world, and has survived almost 50 earthquakes at magnitudes of 7.0 and greater, the New York Daily News reported.

How They Did It

The temple was built using a shinbashira, a big column encased in a shaft that sits in the center of the structure. The shinbashira serves as a shock absorber, as well as a buffer between the structure's floors, the New York Daily News reported.

Builders use the same type of method in today's buildings with mass dampers, or harmonic absorbers, which lessen the tremors when an earthquake hits. Although today's dampers are typically made from steel, liquid or concrete, the concept is still the same.

More Techniques

The Horyu-ji temple isn't the only ancient structure that was built to withstand earthquakes. In China's Forbidden City, a 2,000-year-old support method called dougong uses interlocking wooden brackets to evenly distribute the weight of overhanding roofs, the New York Daily News reported. China's 1056 A.D. Wooden Pagoda, built on a seismic belt, also utilized dougong, and has survived countless earthquakes. The technique works so well that architects of today have begun to use it once more.

Atop earthquake-laden Machu Piccu in Peru, Incans created a Lego-like technique to fit stones without the use of mortar, the New York Daily News reported. Now, architects are looking at ways to adapt the method for modern-day use.