Straw house survives violent tremors at quake lab

April 6th, 2009 - 5:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 6 (IANS) A full-scale straw house, complete with gravel foundation and clay plaster walls, shook and swayed but withstood a violent, 82-tonne force generated by a quake-simulation shake table.
The house, designed and built by University of Nevada, Reno alumna and civil engineer Darcey Donovan, shook and swayed while taking the last in a series of seven increasingly forceful test tremors, but stayed intact.

Donovan oversaw the successful series of seismic tests run at the Nevada’s University’s world-renowned Large-Scale Structures Lab.

She was testing her innovative design for straw bale houses she has been building since 2006 throughout the northwest frontier province of Pakistan, in the Himalayan foothills between Pakistani tribal areas and Kashmir.

Her design uses bales as structural and load-bearing components rather than just insulation as in other straw-bale designs.

“We’re very pleased with the results,” said Donovan, founder and CEO of the non-profit Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB) organisation.

Most people were killed and injured in that Kashmir October 2005 quake as they slept when their poorly built houses collapsed on top of them. The magnitude 7.6 earthquake killed 100,000 people and left 3.3 million homeless or living in tents.

“Our goal is to get the largest number of poor people into earthquake-safe homes. We want to make it as affordable as possible so they build a safe home. We want to save lives,” she said.

“We build a small, steel compression box, pack it with straw, which is readily available from the Punjab District, literally stomp on it to compress it, add a little more, stomp on it a little more, and then finally use standard farm-type hand jacks to do the final compressing of the bales,” Donovan said, according to a Nevada release.

“Our system is different than anything ever tested,” she said. “We’re doing seismic research on the house to have data to show its structural integrity.” While there are no building codes in the region, Donovan and the organisation she founded, PAKSBAB, are pursuing an endorsement from Pakistan’s newly formed Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority.

Scientists will analyse the seismic-testing results, and Donovan will write a detailed report and seismic design and construction recommendations to be published in the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute’s World Housing Encyclopedia.

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