Blog Post

Everything You Need To Know About Disaster Resilient Architecture

07.11.2022 | 11 min read | Written by Olga Romanova

Protection against natural disasters has always been reactive instead of proactive, which causes severe losses each time a calamity hits. Prevention efforts and coordinated responses to disasters save lives and lessen their impact on communities.
The number of climate-related disasters has increased three times in the last 30 years and continues at an insane rate. About 5 million properties in the UK are at risk of flooding. Disaster-resilient architecture aims to build buildings and structures that can endure both natural and man-made calamities and offer quick recovery.

Designing, constructing, and operating buildings in a way that is disaster-resistant is an innovative method to save lives. It is essential for averting suffering, safeguarding people’s livelihoods, and assisting in the healing of communities. 

Why Is Disaster Resilient Architecture So Important?

Disaster Resilient Architecture means essential city services, including buildings, public transit, power system, internet, and communication services, are able to withstand natural disasters. The resilient design anticipates future challenges through better site planning and more robust construction practices. 

According to WHO, natural disasters include:

  • Earthquakes
  • Tsunamis
  • Volcanic eruptions
  • landslides
  • Hurricanes
  • Floods
  • Wildfires
  • Heatwaves
  • Droughts

Each has a unique but equally disastrous impact on lives and infrastructure. 

It is important to note that it is impossible to design architecture that can withstand natural disasters. Lightweight materials, for example, stand against earthquakes well but can easily be washed away by floods. 

Disaster resilient architecture is designed to withstand the most common catastrophe likely to hit an area. Such architecture mitigates the adverse effects of natural calamities and ensures faster risk management. 

Read more:  The Architecture of the Future: 2022 Research

What Measures Can You Take In Resilient Architecture Design?

UNESCO has defined a holistic approach to constructing disaster-resilient structures adapted to the local environment and architecture. It includes social, cultural, economic, environmental, and technical aspects. Known as the International Disaster Resilient Architecture project, it offers the following measures for disaster resilient construction. 

  • Maintain technical quality that resists natural hazards
  • Consider ecosystems and nature, and focus on a climate-responsive approach to integrate the environment during construction. 
  • Converse resource, Optimise energy needs of the cultural landscape while promoting creativity.
  • Ensure social acceptance and ownership by the community by keeping local people involved in the process
  • Promote local trade, employment, and production. Manage local resources sustainably, and optimise the energy needed for construction. 

The methods developed for constructing disaster-resistant architecture are listed below: 

Disaster Resilient Construction Material

Gone are the days when resisting collateral damage post a climate crisis was impossible. Several disaster-resistant construction materials have been introduced that can be used for new constructions and reinforced into existing ones. 

Flood Resistant Buildings

Flood-resistant materials include concrete, glazed bricks, closed cells, foam insulation, steel hardware, marine-grade plywood, ceramic tiles, and water-resistant glues. Since these materials are waterproof, they don’t allow water to seep into the buildings and protect them from collapsing. 

Earthquake Resistant Buildings

Materials that can protect architecture in seismic zones include paper tubes, biomaterials, and shape memory alloys. They provide plasticity to buildings and structures and keep them intact during earthquakes. 

Fire Resistant Buildings

All the structural materials used to make buildings, mainly steel and concrete, are non-combustible, hence fire-resistant. If the building has woodwork, it is made of fire-resistant wood, and fire alarms are fitted. Taking preventative steps is key to protecting structures from fire.

Heavy Snow Resistant Buildings

Construction methods used in snowy regions consider the principles that lessen the effects of heavy snowfall. Buildings specifically made to withstand the effects of snow have steep roofs to prevent snow accumulation. Buildings’ exteriors are made to resist the effects of snow, while their foundations are made to endure the weight of snowfall.

Read more: 17 Innovative Construction Materials Changing How We Build

Resistance Against Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic eruptions are fierce, often leading to a significant loss of lives and infrastructure. Now, however, buildings near active volcanoes are constructed to stay intact. As eruptions can whip up fierce winds, houses resistant to volcanoes are mostly flat roofs with a slight, 15-degree slope. The slope makes room for the ash to slide off the roof. Triple roof support and using smooth materials for roofing also help Ash from eruption slide away.

Concrete structures are far better at resisting fierce winds than timber-framed buildings. Simpler architectural structures with slight modifications leave little room for ash to settle, creating a safer environment.

Symmetrical, Aerodynamic Structures

Architecture that is disaster-resistant must be symmetrical and have a predictable shape. The Global Shelter Cluster claims that asymmetrical structures, including those with T or U shapes, may worsen the effects of natural disasters. Unbalanced designs, including extraordinarily long and thin buildings, are at a greater risk for most catastrophes.

Unusual building styles, like those with curved facades or domes, can reduce some risks associated with harsh weather. Architectural solutions with aerodynamic exteriors are becoming more and more common. Homes and roofs with hexagonal and octagonal designs can withstand strong winds better.

Hip roofs are more aerodynamic and resilient to the uplift effects of strong winds because they slope upward from all of a building’s sides without having vertical ends.

Seismic Retrofitting

Seismic retrofitting is modifying existing structures to increase their resistance to seismic activity, ground motion, or soil failure due to earthquakes. Adding structural reinforcements to older structures in disaster-prone areas can reduce risks. Other natural disasters, including tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and strong winds from thunderstorms, can also be avoided using retrofit techniques.

In seismic zones, it is preferable to reinforce foundations by adding more concrete, changing columns or beams, or supporting the building from the outside with auxiliary struts. Using a web of carbon fibers, the strand rod shields a structure against earthquakes and tsunamis.

The following table shows some standard retrofit techniques and their contribution to disaster-resilient architecture. 

Retrofitting Methods Application
Base isolation Suitable for low-rise newly-constructed buildings, historical heritages, and structures built on hard foundation
Seismic damper For frame structures located in seismic prone areas
Motor Joint Treatment Best for exterior masonry wallets, collar in-jointed wall system for thermal insulation and preventing water penetration
External Steel reinforcement Suitable for low-rise, weak buildings lacking extensive ductility
Post-tension For structures built with perforated masonry units
Mesh-reinforcement Ideal for structures to resist blasts. It strengthens vaults and arches but requires skilled technicians.
Reticulatus system For fair face heritages of both regular and irregular shapes
Constructional columns Suitable for newly-built structures
Tie bars Used in conjunction with post-tension, tie bars can be fixed along the walls both horizontally and vertically

Powerful Simplicity

Simple yet effective design strategies can prevent some natural disasters.

  • Flood damage can be reduced by simply building permanent impermeable barriers and raising structures off the ground.
  • Asymmetrical structures or imbalanced forms can worsen the consequences of natural disasters. Curved surfaces, hexagonal and octagonal housing, and roof shapes can withstand the majority of extreme weather-based threats.
  • Simple pinewood belts planted along the coast have helped protect settlements from tsunami damage, particularly in Japan. Additionally, this acts as a windbreak and stops sand mitigation in these areas. 
  • Green roofs are considered to be extremely pleasant, potentially usable green spaces. The additional rooftop vegetation helps to build occupants by reflecting the majority of direct sunlight rather than having the structure absorb it.
  • Construction of structures utilising climatologically effective methods, such as orientation or vegetation, can ultimately aid in partially managing contextual disasters.

The Architecture of the Future

Download the full research paper here.

Disaster Resilient Architecture Around The World

Here are 5 examples of disaster resilient architecture around the world:

Shanghai Tower, Shanghai, China


Shanghai has mighty winds because of its position in eastern China, which makes it vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding. Typhoon Haikui, which struck this region of the country in 2012, badly disrupted transportation and knocked out power. The Shanghai Tower was designed to be remarkably durable to any upcoming natural calamities.

Shanghai Tower, the second-tallest building in the world, was cleverly constructed on a seismically active site. This tower’s base is built of soft, clay-rich soil over 2000 meters high. Nine hundred eighty piles of concrete filled to a depth of 300 meters serve as reinforcement for the foundation. A tuned mass damper shields Shanghai Tower from strong earthquakes and torrential winds. Multiple shock-absorbing pendulums installed in the tower prevent the structure from swaying during an earthquake. 

Its distinctive triangle shape, which twists to a 120° angle as it rises, guarantees that the building will stay upright by reducing the impact of high winds. Given that the Shanghai Tower uses 25% less steel than towers of comparable size, this feat is all the more remarkable.

The Mori Tower, Tokyo, Japan

Mori Tower


Mori Tower, one of Tokyo’s tallest buildings, features some of the most sophisticated earthquake-resistant and motion-absorbing construction techniques ever made. Mori Tower does not use a vastly tuned damper but 192 fluid-filled shock absorbents.

356 oil dampers have been put in the building’s columns and beams at Mori Tower. As a result, the system is very earthquake-resistant. When the tower begins to sway due to seismic activity or heavy winds, these semi-active dampers are loaded with a viscous oil sloshed in the opposite direction to counter and lessen the swaying.

Hurricane-Proof Dome House, Florida

Hurricane-Proof Dome House


There is no denying the uniqueness of the monolithic dome home situated on a beach in Pensacola, Florida. It stands out from the surrounding landscape like a half-sphere and is made of a white, almost shell-like concrete structure. 

The house, owned by Mark and Valerie Sigler, has also survived four extremely destructive hurricanes, including Ivan, Dennis, and Katrina, because of its one-piece concrete construction, which is reinforced with five miles of steel. After storms Erin and Opal destroyed their former home, the Siglers spent $7 million to build this 300mph wind-resistant structure.

The building is a storm’s worst enemy due to its unusual design and construction (built roughly 600 tonnes of reinforced concrete). The result is a 4,000-square-foot home with three bedrooms, five bathrooms, and one valuable amenity: tranquillity. 

Raised Flood Proof House, South Carolina

Flood Proof House, South Carolina


On Cusabo Island, off the coast of South Carolina, elevated a complete story off the ground so that tsunamis or hurricane-induced flooding can pass beneath the building and save it. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) used helical foundations, a steel frame, steel exterior wall, roof panels, and other engineering techniques to design the prefabricated home to go beyond and above flood zone specifications. This makes the 3,888 square foot house fireproof and wind resistant at 140 mph.

With helical foundations, a steel structure, steel exterior wall, roof panels, and engineering exceeding FEMA flood zone code criteria, the building can withstand winds of up to 140 mph and has superior fire resistance.

Kansai International Airport, Osaka Bay, Japan

Kansai International Airport


Apart from typhoons, earthquakes, and storm surges, gravity poses the greatest threat to this massive structure on an artificial island in Osaka Bay. A concrete foundation was placed immediately on the seabed to prevent uneven sinking that may demolish the buildings. A “jack-up mechanism” inserts iron plates as needed to maintain levelness.

The roof’s design uses its curved shape to circulate air through ducts on either side, making it more effective by hanging mobiles.

 Nine hundred pillars consisting of 3,60,000 tonnes of iron ore, which replaces the excavated soil, make up the foundation designed to withstand earthquakes. For maximum resistance, the ceiling and wall are braced by a sequence of cylindrical steel elements in conjunction with tension cables rather than firmly attached to decrease the possibility of shock passing through.

Read more: Biophilic design – 10 great examples of green exteriors and interiors

Final Thoughts

Given the current climate change situation, populations are at a high risk of natural disasters, now more than ever. The construction industry needs to realise the significance of building disaster-resilient architecture. The exemplary architecture of a building can undoubtedly save lives.

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