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Building with “barrier free” design and floating floor slabs remains standing after the Great Japan EQ… Mediatheque in Sendai

June 27, 2011

You always hear of buildings built to withstand earthquake forces and yet you still see buildings that have collapsed or sustained major damage and you wonder, what happened? A very unusual building in Japan beat the odds!

Toyo Ito’s, a famous Japanese architect built an amazing library in Sendai Japan called Mediatheque.  A video taken at the height of the Japanese earthquake has had an extraordinary eyewitness and vertigo-inducing account of what it was like to be inside a building during the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, 2011. (   Check it out and be careful…you might get a bit seasick watching it!

The video was shot by someone who had ”ducked, covered and held” under one of the tables in the audio-visual library on the seventh floor. The building shook and swayed violently; everything failing from shelves and desks onto the floor. Ceiling panels swung wildly overhead. But the Mediatheque did not collapse. It stood firm against the massive seismic forces that were tearing other buildings apart; the basic structure did not fail.

Mr. Ito is one of Japan's, and the world's, best-known architects, and the Mediatheque has been celebrated internationally for its visual elegance and radical structural solution.

Completed in 2001, it was the winning design in a competition for an interactive multimedia center with a wide range of cultural activities, from the visual and performing arts to computers with free Internet access. It has an elegance and quiet beauty and at the same time is quite hip!

But a glass-walled box that emphasizes lightness and transparency—there are seven open floors with almost everything visible from the street—does not suggest invulnerability to an epic natural disaster. This is the kind of architecture that critics of modernism like to call risky and unreliable. When flaws appear, schadenfreude follows.

Fortunately, the tsunami did not reach the building, and the damage was limited to broken glass on the first and third floors, part of a window on the double-glazed south side, a section of ceiling that had fallen on the top floor, solar equipment, and a rooftop air duct. Repairs are under way, and the Mediatheque should be completely reopened in early summer.

To read more about this amazing building check out a recent Wall Street Journal article on its design. The building’s extraordinary resilience was the result of a close collaboration between a creative architect and an equally creative engineer, who turned a provocative design into a safe building without sacrificing their original vision.

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