Currently earthquakes cause buildings to collapse and are therefore quite deadly, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Already there are modern high tech solutions that many earthquake prone areas use to ensure buildings don’t collapse during extreme shaking events. We can augment our current systems by using those from the past. In India the traditional kath kuni architectural style is designed to handle seismic events and has been refined over centuries. The techniques used in creating these kath kuni structures can be applied to buildings today to ensure a higher level of safety and thus make earthquakes less deadly.
In the mountainous region of Himachal Pradesh in India, near where the Indian Plate is colliding with the Eurasian Plate, many structures built in the kath kuni style have survived at least a century of earthquakes. In this traditional building method, the name, which translates to “wood corner,” in part explains the method: Wood is laced with layers of stone, resulting in improbably sturdy multi-story buildings.
It is one of several ancient techniques that trace fault lines across Asia. The foundations for the timber lacing system of architecture may have originally been laid in Istanbul around the fifth century. Stone masonry and wood-beam construction can still be seen in Nepal as well as in the traditions of Kashmiri Taq and Dhajji Dewari and Pakistani Bhatar. Even Turkey has a long tradition of similar construction methods. Despite their ancient origins, this model of construction has mostly fared better over centuries than much of the contemporary building across the continent’s many active seismic zones.