Things are seldom what they seem
skim milk masquerades as cream
(William S. Gilbert)
Published on 15 August 2011
Earthen buildings, typically classified as unreinforced masonry structures, are extremely vulnerable to earthquakes and subject to sudden collapse during a seismic event—especially if a building lacks proper and regular maintenance. Historic earthen sites located in seismic areas are at high risk of being heavily damaged and even destroyed.
During the 1990s, the Getty Conservation Institute carried out a major research and laboratory testing program—Getty Seismic Adobe Project (GSAP)—which the GCI and the field are now building upon. GSAP investigated the performance of historic adobe structures during earthquakes, and then developed cost-effective retrofit methods that substantially preserve the authenticity of these buildings. Results of this research have been disseminated in a series of publications, both in English and Spanish (see Related Materials).
In 2006 the Earthen Architecture Initiative convened two meetings: the Getty Seismic Adobe Project Colloquium and New Concepts in Seismic Strengthening of Historic Adobe Structures. Held at the Getty Center, the meetings focused on implementation of the Getty's seismic research and on identification of further research needed in the study of historic earthen architecture in seismic zones. Papers presented at the GSAP colloquium, as well as the main conclusions of colloquium's round table discussions, can be found at Proceedings of the Getty Seismic Adobe Project 2006 colloquium.
The participants in the colloquium concluded that the GSAP methodology was excellent and effective. However, the methodology's reliance on high-tech materials and professional expertise was a deterrent to it being more widely implemented.
The Seismic Retrofitting Project
To address this, the GCI has joined with the Ministerio de Cultura del Perú (MDC), the School of Architecture and Civil Engineering of the University of Bath (BATH), and the Escuela de Ciencias e Ingeniería of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) to form the Seismic Retrofitting Project (SRP). The project—building on GSAP, the conclusions of the Pisco Peru 2007 earthquake assessment carried out by the GCI and its consultant engineers (see below), and a detailed structural assessment of four Peruvian historic earthen buildings as prototypes found in seismic regions of South America—will combine traditional construction techniques and materials with high-tech methodologies to design and test easy-to-implement seismic retrofitting techniques and maintenance programs to improve the structural performance and safety of earthen buildings while minimizing loss of historic fabric.
The structural assessment team and project partners at Cathedral of Ica, Peru, in 2010. Photo: Amila Ferron, GCI
The project will also provide guidance for those responsible for implementation (e.g., architects, engineers, and conservators), and work with authorities to gain acceptance and to facilitate the implementation of the designed techniques. The project's results are intended to be widely applicable across Latin America.
The project objectives are to:
The project's activities can be divided in four phases: 1) feasibility and research; 2) methodology; 3) testing; and 4) dissemination and implementation.
Phase I - Feasibility and Research
Selected Prototype Sites
The Hotel El Comercio, a 19th-century mud brick and wattle and daub commercial and residential building in Lima's historic center. Photo: Amila Ferron, GCI The Cathedral of Ica in Peru, an 18th-century ecclesiastical building made of mud brick and wattle and daub vaults and domes, damaged in the 2007 Pisco earthquake. Photo: Sara Lardinois, GCI
The Church of Kuño Tambo, a 16th-century ecclesiastical building made of mud brick with a truss roof, in Acomayo, Cusco, Peru. Photo: Wilfredo Carazas, for the GCI Casa Arones, a residential 16th-century two-story mud brick and truss roof building in the historic center of Cusco, Peru. Photo: Sara Lardinois, GCI
Phase II - Methodology
Phase III - Design and Testing
Phase IV - Dissemination and Implementation
The 2007 Pisco Earthquake
Post-earthquake assessments offer an opportunity to understand why buildings fail and provide information that can serve as the basis for the improvement of seismic performance. For centuries, lessons learned from earthquakes and other natural disasters have been used to advance construction techniques; more recently, such lessons have fostered the development of the engineering and historic preservation disciplines, as well as the testing and review of current building codes and disaster management policies and procedures. The history of Peruvian architecture exemplifies this process.
In response to their understanding about the effects of seismic activity on earthen structures, early Peruvian cultures developed reinforcement techniques to enhance construction systems. That tradition continues with the inclusion of the NTE-80 Norma Técnica del Adobe, which regulates new adobe construction in the country and is part of the Peruvian National Building Code.
On August 15, 2007, a Moment Magnitude (Mw) of 8.0 and a maximum local Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) of VII-VIII earthquake hit the southern coast of Peru. Preliminary reports indicated that a large number of historic earthen sites located in the communities of Cañete, Chincha, Pisco, Ica, and Huancavelica were severely damaged.
After the 2007 earthquake, a multidisciplinary team of national and international earthquake engineers, preservation architects, and conservators—convened by the GCI—visited a total of fifteen historic earthen sites, rapidly documented them, and evaluated the damage to these sites.
The team concentrated on recording existing conditions such as abandonment, deterioration, or structural alterations over time with the ultimate objective of understanding the impact of such conditions on the buildings seismic performance. The assessment, which was organized in response to a request from the former Instituto Nacional de Cultura del Perú (INC, Peruvian National Institute of Culture, now the Ministerio de Cultura del Perú–MDC) will be published online in July 2011.
The selection of the four prototype structures selected to be studied as part of SRP—the Hotel El Comercio, the Cathedral of Ica, the Church of Kuño Tambo, and Casa Arones—grew out of this earthquake assessment process.
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