A Touch of Bad Evolution

I have a sneaky suspicion there is a touch of “bad evolution” going on with building design in Bali. I constantly see buildings where design is so preoccupied with appearance that it has forgotten some basic factors of engineering particularly regarding the risk of earthquakes.This design “evolution” is the result of architects who want to design buildings that are not hindered by such boring concerns as structural strength. If you look at older buildings you will find structural columns and beams are visible in the walls and ceilings.These days architects want to design buildings with flush walls and ceilings and to do this they are changing the shape of the columns and beams that they use.

In the past a typical main structural column was likely to be 25 cms by 25 cms square. These days such a column is more likely to be a wide but very skinny 15 cms by 50 cms to allow it to be buried in a 15 cm thick wall and hidden from view. However, when these “skinny” columns are used there are a couple of important factors we need to keep in mind.

Firstly a square column has equal strength in all directions whereas a wide skinny column is stronger in its wide direction but considerably weaker in its thinner direction, great care must be taken in how such columns are used in buildings.

Secondly when a column is only 15 cms thick there is not a lot of margin for error and so it is very important that the actual size of the column, the quality of the concrete and the size and position of the steel within the column are correct (unfortunately this is rarely a realistic expectation in Bali).

In short, using wide, skinny columns and beams is OK as long as they are correctly designed and are built to more exacting standards than more conventional designs.

Generally speaking the standard of building in Indonesia is poor, a fact well demonstrated every time there is an earthquake, and so we can start to see that the evolution of building design is heading down a very rocky road. How serious this is we will find out one day when “the big one” hits. For information on earthquake risk in Bali see: https://www.mrfixitbali.com/natural-disasters/earthquake-risk-in-bali-74.html.

Indonesia has a comprehensive set of standards for building design, construction, plumbing and electrical installations, but sadly the average developer and builder have little if any knowledge of these standards. They depend on their technical experts, structural engineers and electrical and plumbing installers, to make sure that Indonesian standards are met. At this point we need to note that architects are not a structural engineer and many do not engage structural engineers to save money.

In Bali many houses and villas are being built by architects who are not only designing the buildings but also engaging the contractors to carry out the construction. It is not uncommon to find in such situations that the architect does not visit the site very often leaving the contractor a free reign to cut corners and reduce his costs.

Responsible architects will tell you that architects should stay within their area of expertise, they should not be designing structures nor should they be supervising construction. The fact is that architects and builders simply do not have the technical knowledge to make sure a building is designed to be structurally sound and to withstand earthquakes. This is particularly relevant when using these slimmer columns and beams.

The lesson is simple, if you want to survive in an earthquake make sure the building you are in is structurally sound. If you are building make sure a structural engineer has designed the structure and inspects during construction, if you intend to buy or rent a property make sure a structural engineer has inspected the building first.
So what can you do to protect yourself if you are building ?
1. Check the drawings and that a structural engineer has designed, or at least checked, the structure and has signed off on the drawings thereby accepting responsibility.

2. Ask questions regarding the foundations and structural design so you can understand where the most important aspects of the building are.

3. Make sure that during the construction the building is regularly inspected, particularly when the structure is being built, by people who understand about the specifications and placement of steel and about concrete mixes and strengths.

4. If this is all rather daunting for you don’t worry, find an independent expert to represent you. He/she can check all the documents and drawings and check the building during the construction phase.

Perhaps we should also remember that the whole notion of evolution is, of course, somewhat inextricably linked with a rather unavoidable reality – that of natural selection. A bit of bad evolution, like a camel without a hump, a lion with no teeth or a real estate agent with a bad stutter, has a way of being wiped out – naturally of course. Unfortunately in this case it is the person living in the building and not the person who built it that gets naturally selected for removal from the gene pool.

Previous “Fixed Abode” articles can be found subject indexed on our website at www.mrfixitbali.com. Opinions expressed are those of Phil Wilson. He can be contacted through the website or the office on 0361 288 789 or 08123 847 852.

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