The Transformation of Infrastructure in Disasters

The Transformation of Infrastructure in Disasters

Zhendong Long and Xiaodan Ma

Intro Slide Show



Architecture, as a shelter to house and to protect and Infrastructure, as structure elements to support and connect. Why a building is made and for. A disaster zone where everything is lost offers the opportunity for us to take a fresh look, from the ground up, at what architecture infrastructure really is. The architecture in the areas that are more inclined to encounter sever disasters are required to have precaution systems, more evaluated site selection, and necessary secondary protection infrastructure in order to provide better safety for people. The examples of -information about how the faulty design of infrastructure negatively influences human habitat, even causing disaster and how well-designed and transformed secondary infrastructure can help cities as well as people survive the disaster and revitalize post-crisis era.


Topic 1 — Infrastructure: Precaution

The Great Fire of London, London, 1666


The Great Fire of London


The Map of the Great Fire of London



The Infrastructure System used at that time
The Infrastructure System used at that time

Unawareness of potential problems of facility construction and city planning resulted in the Great Fire of London. The way that infrastructure and urban planning incorporate human activities form precautionary systems to respond to a disaster. London did not developed in very planned way. The water supply infrastructure in London during Medieval times was the major disadvantage because it was over-dependent on wood and lead, which are the construction materials that were also the primary victim of the Great Fire of London. The water system infrastructure was not survival in the test of the Great fire. Wood and lead pipes, wood water-wheels, wood engines, wood pumps, and lead-lined cisterns, those materials was not only destroyed in the disaster, but also increase the severity of the disaster. In addition to the water system infrastructure, the houses were nearly all made of wood and packed closely together; the stores and warehouses were full of oil, pitch, hemp, flax, and other combustible wares; a strong wind carried the fire from roof to roof and from street to street; and there was a lack of organization and equipment to deal with the fire (Dorn, Harold and Robert, 1981). After the Great fire, the destruction of buildings and infrastructure in the city was so devastating that it brought people’s attention to the redesign, operation, and maintenance of building and infrastructure. Brick and stone replaced wood as building and infrastructure material. At the same time technological advances of water-based infrastructure and utilities in London helped form people’s precautionary system to deal with potential disaster.


Topic 2 — Infrastructure: Site Selection and Structural Safety

Mill River Dam Failure, Northampton, MA, 1874

The Mill River Flood because of the Failure of Mill River Dam


The Dam Structure System
The Dam Structure System


Conducting site evaluation and analysis to confirm the potential of any site to support a particular infrastructure structure is essential to the safety of significant infrastructure. Site selection of new infrastructure including review of zoning regulations and their impact, assessments of the existing infrastructure of on-site and surrounding utilities, and examinations of existing man-made structures on the site would impact the proposed program or project. In 1874, in Williamsburg and Northampton, Massachusetts, the sudden break of Mill River Dam caused flooding, which sent water down Mill Valley, destroying villages along the river, and causing over a hundred deaths and injuries. With the rocky ground and steep hillsides, the Mill River Valley northwest of Northampton was not an ideal site to farm and live, and the mill river water level varied with the weather and was hard to control.  “In the absence of state regulation on dam construction and site selection, the reservoir company was free to design and build the dam where they pleased. Despite repairs, the dam leaked and slumped for eight years, caused by site selection and geological movement such as the natural settling of the dam. The infrastructure structure failure caused by stress or instability from materials used in dam construction was the major cause of the sever flood disaster. Anxious valley residents who questioned the dam’s safety were reassured by the manufacturers that the dam would hold” (Sharpe, 2004). A year after the break of Mill River dam and the flood, Massachusetts passed the first legislation of dam site evaluation and infrastructure design, which contributed to a safer infrastructure system.


Topic 3 — Infrastructure: Transformation and Secondary Protection

 San Francisco Earthquake. San Francisco, CA, 1989


Before—The Transformation of the Area
After—The Transformation of the Area


Infrastructure, as structure elements needed for human activity and the support to community development, provides a viable medium for addressing issues of safety and habitat, which are thought the failure of infrastructure may sometimes function badly, even causing other disasters. San Francisco, as a city in an earthquake-prone area, was suffering from several natural disasters due to the lack of enough secondary protection. The Embarcadero Freeway, a two-tier highway that cuts off the city waterfront was damaged dramatically (Farmer, 2013). The destruction of the city’s transportation infrastructure caused a functional shift. For the following three years, Art Agnos, the mayor of San Francisco, wanted the destroyed area to be more associated with the rest of San Francisco. The San Francisco waterfront today is a model of new public infrastructure responsible for managing the Bay shoreline, promoting commerce, fisheries, public amenities, and stemming the continuing deterioration of the Port property. In another way, the Galveston Seawall, built after the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, was a secondary landscape infrastructure for future protection from coastal natural disaster. Infrastructure is experiencing a paradigm shift where fast response to post-crisis recovery and secondary protection are primary considerations.



Architecture, as we know it, no longer belongs in the exclusive realm of designing and planning in the context of climate change and natural disaster. Infrastructure-related precaution system, evaluated site selection, and necessary secondary protection facility are needed in the architecture design and urban planning in disaster-prone areas. The success and failure of architecture, infrastructure, and city planning during natural disaster in the history are repositioning precaution system and secondary infrastructure as a viable medium for addressing the issue of safety and habitat. How infrastructure responses to disaster and how infrastructure function in the disaster are the questions we have to take into consideration. Moreover, how cities that have experienced natural disaster use infrastructure to revitalize their future is also the opportunity to examine the feasibility and reliability of architectural infrastructure.







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