Earthquake Resistant Buildings In Japan

The Aim

The aim of this science project was to solve a problem. A real life one. Many people experience earthquakes and their destruction, losing many of their belongings, including their homes. To solve this, we were required to build a small scaled model of an earthquake resistant building following the succ ess criteria.

The Success Criteria

To succeed in this project, the model that we build has to:

  • be quick and easy to assemble
  • have a minimum height of 60 cm
  • have a maximum base of 30 cm x 30 cm
  • remain standing after an earthquake, as simulated by shaking a table for 10 seconds
  • be constructed from the materials supplied by our teacher
  • cost less than $60 to build

The materials that were supplied to us consisted of spaghetti, blue-tack, a ruler (which could not be incorporated in the model), and scissors. The costs of spaghetti and blue-tack were as followed; spaghetti costs $1/10cm, blue-tack costs $1/g.

The Engineering Process

The engineering process is a method engineers use to solve a problem. This process is important in solving any problem as it takes the problem solver down a straight forward path so that the problem can be solved a lot more easily. The engineering process is as followed:

Define – Engineers must define the problem they have been presented so that they know the exact thing that they must solve

Brainstorm – They then brainstorm to generate new ideas to solve the problem

Research – Engineers research what others have done in similar situations in the past

Design – Engineers can then design a solution to the problem that they have been presented

Create – After designing a solution, it can then be built as a small-scale model

Test and Evaluate – After creating the model, it can be tested and reflected on, noting any points of failure

Improve – After testing and finding points of failure, the model can then be improved by going through the process again from the Design step to fix the points of failure

Share – After a successful model has been designed, it can be shared to others to be implemented into the real world

In the project, we followed this process accordingly, and successfully designed an effective solution to the problem provided, to construct a small-scale model of a building that can withstand an earthquake. We defined the the problem, brainstormed ideas from our prior knowledge, and researched what real engineers do to make a building earthquake resistant, to gain knowledge and be able to think of new, improved ideas. We then designed a model utilizing these ideas, and created the prototype with spaghetti and blue-tack. After testing and identifying the points of failure, we re-designed a model to fix these failures, and repeated the process until a successful design was made. We then could make a presentation (this eportfolio) to show off our final design and how it functions.

The Group

Our group consisted of Sam F, Fraser and I, and roles were distributed according to our strengths. Sam acted as the project manager, his role being to keep the group underway and on track to complete the project by the due date and checking in on the group members. Fraser acted as the speaker/researcher/, having to research real life situations and solutions, talking to people including the teacher to learn more and additionally, making sure the ePortfolio of each member is completed. Finally, I acted as the building planner, drawing and designing building plans utilizing the information gathered by the speaker/researcher.


Some Design Elements We Considered

After researching through the internet and real life adults, we brainstormed ideas for our first model. We thought that cross-braces would be good things to implement into the model, along with triangles. We thought of using a pendulum, a weight suspended freely so that it can rock back and forth against the shaking to minimize the force, but decided it would become too expensive and out of our budget. We also found that muscles were used in bridges, and might be able to be utilized for a vertical building. We also found that pyramids were a good choice, as proven many years back by the ancient Egyptians. These were the main things that we found, as other things could not be implemented or weren’t needed, like materials, lighter roofs, and foundations below the ground. After our research was completed, we started designing our first model.

Our First Model

The first model that we designed was a pyramid building. We chose this shape as it has a strong structure, a large base and small top and strong natural support. We included muscles into the building, lines of spaghetti angles in a way that it can support a lot of weight, so that we could make a strong and flexible shape in a cheap way. We started building our design, but that’s when we ran into a problem, we couldn’t build the design. You see, a muscle needs to be built by attaching onto the outside case of the pyramid, but the outside case can’t be built without the muscle as without it it collapses in on itself. So we needed to build the muscle onto something that needed the muscle to be built. It’s impossible to do both at the same time, and the only way to build it was to not built it, but a different building entirely.

A Rough Sketch Of Our First Model

The Adjustments Made

So some adjustments needed to be made. But we struggled to find a solution at first as we still didn’t have anything from the previous experiment to work with, as we never got to see what the design actually did well. We thought that we could scrap the muscle idea, as that hadn’t worked at all. We still wanted to incorporate the pyramid into the building, so we thought change the shape but also include a pyramid. We looked around the room to come up with ideas, and something sparked.

A blueprint for our second model. I made the design with more detail to improve accuracy.

Our Second Model

We thought of using rectangles. I know it sounds a bit bland, but it was a start. A rectangle with cross braces was proving to work well with other groups still building there first designs, so we thought to utilize that idea ourselves. We quickly put together a hasty design for our second model. We would stack two rectangular prisms on top of each other, supporting them with cross-braces, then adding a small pyramid on top with a short piece of spaghetti to reach the minimum height.

Our Second Model Constructed

And we started building, again. Because of our experience we found that building the second model was a lot easier, and this time the building stood on its own. Amazing! We started testing, and the model survived the sliding test with no damage. But then we met Senuka’s fist. No, Senuka didn’t punch us in the nose, but he was the one to do the up and down banging test. This was the violent one that we were scared of. And we should have been. Within 3 seconds our model broke and fell apart. So, it was back to the drawing board.

The Model’s Test

Why Did It Fail?

My teammates suggested to just add more blue-tack and spaghetti to those areas, but after looking at the video closely and identifying the exact point of failure, I convinced them that that strategy would not be optimal. Instead, I explained why the model broke, which was because of the cross-braces transmitting the energy into the base, and since their were two segments, too much energy was being transmitted through the mid-point, which was the weakest point of the building. So we needed to make changes, again.

A Plan For Our Final Design

Our Final Model

Our Final Model Constructed

This was it, our final design, so we had to make it count. The pyramid idea was used again, but differently. We decided to make it a square based pyramid, with a base much wider, and cross-braces on the sides. It was separated into three parts, the base, the top half of the pyramid, and the final strand of spaghetti. The base would be constructed starting at 16 cm * 16cm, slowly going inwards to reach 21cm up. Cross braces go from corner to corner to add structure and support. Another layer on that is added on top to create the full pyramid. After testing it lightly (but not a complete test) we noted that the sides of this layer were quite flimsy, so used some of our remaining budget on double-lining this section of the pyramid. The final part is simply a 20cm piece of spaghetti sticking out of the top of the pyramid. This design was our final and strongest design in our project by far, and this was proved through the final test, as after the shaking and trembling, we saw that our model was still standing right there how we left it. It felt so good to have finally been able to complete this task.

The Sliding Test

The Banging Test


Overall, I think that this project was a good and memorable experience, working with team mates, problem solving, creativity, and the ability to reflect and improve are all very important life skills to have. I think I’m better off with this experience than without. Our group ended up being able to create a model following the engineering process. The pyramid building constructed with an inner muscle at the start failed, so we changed the shape of the building to a taller, more rectangular shape. This too failed, so we ultimately returned to the pyramid shape, reinforcing it and ensuring success in our final design. Our first design failed to stand on its own, our improved second design withstood the P and S waves, but ultimately fell when the high magnitude surface waves destroyed the building. Finally, our final design. It managed to withstand all 3 earthquakes with ease, taking no damage after double-lines the second part of the pyramid, withstanding levels on the Mercalli scale past catastrophic.

I think that the engineering process is mostly fine, except for step 2 and 3. I think that if you were to research first and gain knowledge on what others have done prior to the brainstorming, it would mean that you could brainstorm a lot more effective ideas as you already know things that are going to be good to use and branch off of that. This would result in less budget needed to be used in failed designs. This change would have led to an improved design as we wouldn’t of had to go through the first design as we would have not brainstormed that and thought that out of the ideas we had that it was the best, which would have meant we would spend more time on our second and final design to make the measurements perfect to create the best structure.

I feel like our team worked well together. Although there were times when ideas weren’t explained clearly enough, overall we worked well. People stuck to their roles, Sam as the project manager, Fraser as the Researcher/speaker, and me as the building planner. Our strengths were utilized well in these roles, I’m creative and a good problem solver, Sam always gets work in on time, and Fraser is an effective researcher and had prior knowledge before this task. I was responsible for making building designs and using the information provided by Fraser, the researcher/speaker, Sam was responsible for ensuring that work was on track to being completed on time, and Fraser was to research and find things out to help the building designer. Fraser helped me a lot, he came up with the idea of a muscle (which was a good idea, only couldn’t be built), used his knowledge in the project to give me ideas so that I could figure out the nitty-gritty stuff, and kept me from over-thinking things, as I can do that a lot when problem solving. Sam set due dates for Fraser and I to have stuff finished by so we can work on the next thing, like when he wanted me to have the designs done for the 2nd design, and made sure that we stayed on track. This meant that we could make effective designs and be motivated to complete them by a certain time, so we got the maximum effectiveness and efficiency. I feel that we solved a lot of problems together utilizing our expertise. I think that Fraser and I got a lot of work done, but because we were working together a lot there was a lack of communication with Sam. I also feel that we didn’t give Sam an equal amount of work to what Fraser and I were doing. That was our bad, not Sam’s, as we said we had everything under control, which we did, but we probably could have started testing our second model earlier if we had given Sam more of the work. Again, our fault, not his.

But again, overall this was a great experience. The ups and downs of this ride had a positive impact on us, improving our communication, problem solving, groupwork, and creativity, which are all important things to have. I’ve grown closer to Sam and Fraser, and they’ve grown closer to me. I’ve learnt a lot. And I’m glad I did it. This experience is a memorable one, and I really mean it, because I want to still be utilizing engineering skills as an engineer in the many years to come.

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