Sunday, February 25, 2007

Architects under suspicion

• The Japanese Government forces two Kyoto hotels to close because they were constructed with false anti-seismic data.
• The country registers every year more than 1.000 tremors.
On February 5, the hotel chain Apa Group Hotel suspended the activity in nine of its establishments because the existing preoccupation with the security of the buildings. The closing took place 10 days after two of the hotels of the chain, in the city of Kyoto, were forced to evacuate their guests after it was discovered that they had been constructed using falsified information of anti-seismic resistance. The construction projects were signed by Mitsuo Mizuochi, one of the 2.500 architects recognized in Japan as experts in the calculation of structures, which added preoccupation in a country obsessed with earthquakes.
More sentences.
The problems of Apa Hotel aroused just a month after former architect Hidetsugu Aneha was sentenced to five years in prison for falsification of anti-seismic data in the projects of four apartment buildings and two hotels. The fraud affected hundreds of owners, who saw their apartments declared inhabitable. Aneha, as well as the people in charge of the real estate promotions, the constructor and the company authorized to review the construction, declared before a parliamentary commission in televised sessions, followed like the great news of the country during weeks.
After the sentence criticism of the Administration appeared repeatedly. “It was the deregulatory policy of the Government, allowing private agencies to certify the designs of buildings from 1999, which induced the designer to abuse its special skill ", accused the newspaper Japan Times in an editorial.
According to the Infrastructure Ministry, both APA Kyoto hotels have an anti-seismic resistance less than 80% of the required by law. In June, the ministry discovered alterations in several of Mizuochi’s projects in other provinces, and ordered the investigation of 42 constructions in which he had been involved. Among these were both Apa hotels, with inconsistencies and alterations in their documentation. In particular, the result of the resistance, obtained by computer, had been corrected with a text processor. Mizouchi recognized to be the author of the changes, but he said that it introduced them after recalculating the structures by hand. “The computers are not 100% correct. They can have viruses and other problems with software ", the architect said to justify his actions.
Japan is in the confluence of three tectonic plates, what causes that more than 1.000 tremors are registered every year and earthquakes of more than four degrees in the Richter scale are not rare. Throughout its history, the country has undergone great earthquakes, like the Kanto earthquake, that killed 140.000 people in 1923, or the one in Hanshin earthquake, that caused the deaths of 6.000 in 1995.
How to confront earthquakes.
Earthquakes are present in the life of the Japanese in form of constant reminders of the necessity to be prepared to confront them. All around the country there are maps with designated evacuation zones; evacuation drills are frequently rehearsed; and every time there is an appreciable tremor, overprint alerts appear in all television channels. For that reason, any doubt on buildings resistance to tremors creates alarm.
In spite of the obsession with security, a recent study of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper affirms that only a 20% of the buildings constructed with norms previous to the reform that took place in 1981 have been reviewed. According to the civil employees in charge of the inspections, they sometimes face owners afraid of seeing a decline in the value of their assets if any deficiencies are identified.
In the 1995 earthquake, a great part of the buildings that collapsed had been constructed according to the old norms. In the 2005, the blocks raised according to those rules were still almost one fourth of the total of buildings in the country. And, more worrisome still, in December of 2006, an investigation revealed that one of each 14 buildings of 10 or more floors appeared not fulfill the minimum security parameters.

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