California's risible architectural standards
I've lived in Eastern Europe for the first 20+ years of my life, both in urban an rural areas. I've enjoyed the diversity of the urban landscape, the efficient public transportation, and the liveliness of the nightlife. And surprise, all this was happening in a former communist country, Romania. The situation in Western Europe was much better.
In 2004 I moved to Silicon Valley. On my first day at work, on the second floor of a two-story office building, I was mixing some sugar in my coffee while standing by the watercooler... and the floor was shaking with my movement. I weighed ~140lbs at the time, and I wasn't crushing that sugar. The floor was just built California-style.
The Bay Area is a bit messed up when it comes to architecture and housing. The apartment buildings here are built of wood, and are at most 3-story high, with paper-thin walls. No wonder everyone wants to live in houses. This leads to a low population density and to everything being so spread out that you need to drive a few miles to buy a proverbial loaf of bread. California is a car culture:
California's a car culture. You won't survive for long without a car in California. California was designed for cars. Californian urban and suburban planning nearly always assumes that every person owns a car, and nearly all tourist facilities, shopping centers, and workplaces are built with the assumption that everyone at least has access to a car.
In Silicon Valley, all electricity poles are made out of wood and look older than the 1950's. And don't get me started on the complete absence of new urbanism.
Why are buildings so shitty?
The canonical answer is "earthquake". The canonical response is "bullshit". When was the last big earthquake here? In 1989. Romania has more frequent and worse earthquakes, and they build out of concrete and brick.
Japan is much more of a seismic areas and they build out of concrete, steel and glass.
The reason buildings are like crap is cost: this area is not cold enough to warrant serious insulation, America is all about instant gratification, and the recycled wood (which is made of wood chips and glue) is cheap.
How do well-built buildings fare in an earthquake?
- 1989 earthquake in San Francisco: magnitude 6.9:
- no large buildings collapsed
- 18,000+ homes were damaged
- 1977 earthquake in Bucharest, Romania: magnitude 7.2 (more than double the energy release of Loma Prieta) 33 large buildings collapsed, but:
- most were built before WW2
- this earthquake occurred 12 years before the one in SF,
- in a country with lower construction standards,
- and older buildings.
It looks like well-built buildings fared just fine.
Nothing in the San Francisco Financial District collapsed precisely because it was well built. On the other hand, 18,306 homes were damaged by Loma-Prieta and probably well over 95% were made of wood.
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