The Big Idea
Art: Bryan Christie. Sources: Gernot Minke, University of Kassel; Elizabeth A. Hausler, Build Change; Anna Lang, University of California, San Diego; Marcial Blondet and Alvaro Rubinos, Catholic University of Peru; Pierre Paul Fouche, University at Buffalo; USGS
Safe Houses
The earthquake in Haiti was a reminder: Billions of people live in houses that can't stand shaking. Yet safer ones can be built cheaply—using straw, adobe, old tires—by applying a few general principles.

In Los Angeles, Tokyo, and other rich cities in fault zones, the added expense of making buildings earthquake resistant has become a fact of life. Concrete walls are reinforced with steel, for instance, and a few buildings even rest on elaborate shock absorbers. Strict building codes were credited with saving thousands of lives when a magnitude 8.8 quake hit Chile in late February. But in less developed countries like Haiti, where a powerful quake in January killed some 222,500 people and left more than a million homeless, conventional earthquake engineering is often unaffordable. “The devastation in Haiti wouldn’t happen in a developed country,” says engineer Marcial Blondet of the Catholic University of Peru, in Lima. Yet it needn't happen anywhere. Cheap solutions exist.