Urgent Call to Builders: Get Rid of All the Bricks

Do you remember the story of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty? Knowing that the your Princess Aurora had been cursed to get stung by the needle on a spinning wheel, her royal parents ordered all the spinning wheel in the country to be burned, but they forgot one at the attic in the castle’s tower. And so, with the spell of the evil queen, Princess Aurora was led upstairs to use the spinning wheel, and there she got stung by the needle, and fell into the coma planned by the evil queen.

In our homes, we always have these cursed spinning wheel around, deadly time bombs that will readily harm the residents of the home during severe earthquake. They are the bricks. Mostly loose, unsupported and unreinforced, and merely rely on the plaster to keep them together. It amazing to think that in 2015, we human still resort to non-reinforced brick masonry, even in the most earthquake-prone regions, and even in the upscale development, where both the income level and the sophistication of the residence should be looking for a more advanced, safer alternative.

What about lightweight bricks? Lightweight masonry, so long as they are not reinforced, would be just as dangerous. Although lighter than concrete or conventional red bricks, these large sized lightweight bricks falling down from a story worth of height, can easily maim and kill building occupants.

By employing b-panel® (as well as similar Structural Insulated Panels/SIPs), the concern of falling brick debris during earthquake is completely solved, as there is no loose bricks in the structure of the building. All wall surface is reinforced with densely spaced steel wire matrix, which makes the wall in effect a structural shear wall (and a thermally and acoustically insulated one at that). In a b-panel® building, the walls are one extremely rigid, monolithic structural unit. Even in the most severe earthquake, the failure characteristics of b-panel® wall is not catastrophic. The plaster will cracks and loosen, but not in a big, heavy chunks that can be lethal if hitting humans as in the case of bricks.

But old habits die hard. Even in recent b-panel® projects, it was found that some contractor still use bricks to cover areas that was not covered by b-panel® (mostly due to estimation error), such as triangular area under the roof ridge. (ÔÇťAmpigÔÇŁ in Indonesian). This is the lone yarn machine in the Sleeping Beauty story. The b-panel® wall will stay safely intact during earthquake, but the home occupant might still get hurt by the sudden falling bricks from beyond the ceiling. There is no Prince Charming to give the wake up kiss to the fallen victims of bricks. Another example is loose bricks used for mosque architectural details – it is ironic if a place of worship become a dangerous place during natural disaster instead of a place of shelter it was intended to be.

The practice of using unsupported masonry, especially for public service facilities, such as schools, hospitals/clinics, place of worships, government buildings, and communication shelters, must be eradicated. If this is still done because of cultural and behavior inertia, more effort to educate the market needs to be done. However, it is deeply unethical, if the architect, owner, or contractor still build this way even if the potential danger of unsupported masonry is already known.

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