Monday, April 21, 2003

Clearly not from Chicago

Steven Den Beste (who rocks) is clearly not from Chicago.

I can tell you how I have discerned this key fact. He wrote an excellent (as always) piece about the concept of 'graceful failure'. I am not too proud to admit that upon occasion Steven's engineering based posts are above my head. However, this time I noticed a tiny flaw in one of the examples he used - this in no way diminishes the point that Steven made. I just can't resist the urge to point out the flaw in the example.

Steven wrote:
In construction, brick houses tend to fail catastrophically and wood-frame buildings fail more gracefully, which is why the building code in California doesn't permit brick buildings unless they're specially designed. In an earthquake, brick buildings tend to collapse, but even when wood-frame buildings fail they don't tend to fail all the way. They start making noise which warns a person that something bad is happening, and may partially collapse while still retaining at least part of their original shape. A person in a wood-frame building has a much better chance of survival.

That may be so in sunny CA but in Chicago the opposite is the case. In the Midwest there is very little fear of earthquake (excluding the New Madrid fault) but a long memory of fire. In 1871 the timber framed city of Chicago burned to the ground - a catastrophic failure of epic proportions. That is why Chicago was rebuilt out of relatively fire safe brick. In case of fire brick structures give residents more time to escape giving the person in a brick building a better chance of survival. Additionally, a brick building is less likely to go up in flames due to a spark from a neighboring house fire.

I have to thank Den Beste for answering a question for me. Years ago when a friend from LA visited Chicago with me she was amazed at the fact that seemingly everything is built of brick. She stated that in LA it was far to expensive to build out of brick - I would imagine that is a result of the special design and permits required there.


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