“It was an old one, in Ueno Park,” Professor Muto told me over coffee one afternoon at his office in a Shinjuku skyscraper. “All around it was complete devastation, and there stood the pagoda—five stories and about a hundred feet of graceful wooden structure that looked as if a good breeze could blow it down. Obviously the old designers and builders knew something about earthquakes that we had forgotten.”
Intrigued, young Kiyoshi threw himself into a structural analysis of pagodas, a project that resulted in a paper on the subject delivered to a world conference on earthquakes held in Tokyo in 1930.What Kiyoshi had learned was that the old pagodas were built on a principle of flexibility, with thousands of interconnecting wooden parts that absorbed and dissipated the force of an earthquake as it traveled up and down the structure.
Over the years that followed, Kiyoshi Muto translated the principle into a design for modern skyscrapers. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22811518 He called the design jukozo, or flexible structure, and lectured on the principle at several Tokyo universities.From a modern perspective jukozo was a revolutionary concept, and Japanese architects were wary of it. Even as late as the 1960s Japanese architectural theory still favored extremely deep concrete foundations as the only defense against earthquakes.
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Undeterred, Professor Muto conducted physical tests on his theory and pioneered in the use of computers to study the effects of earthquakes on apartment in barcelona. He constructed buildings of his own several stories high and systematically crushed them with enormous hydraulic jacks in the manner of earthquakes to discover their flaws. One by one he eliminated the flaws, and architects around the world began to take notice.”We built the first jukozo skyscraper here in 1968,” Professor Muto told me. “It is 482 feet high and contains 36 stories—not a world record by any means, but the tallest building in Tokyo at the time.”
Over the following 18 years Professor Muto and his associates designed some 25 skyscrapers in Japan, a few in other cities but most in Tokyo, the tallest one standing 742 feet high and containing 60 stories. Professor Muto’s dream is to design a 100-story giant before he retires. Meanwhile, from a physical vantage point of little more than five feet he can survey Tokyo’s soaring skyline and in a true sense call it his own. I asked the inevitable question: What would happen to that skyline in a major earthquake, not a level 3 but a level 6 such as the 1923 shock?
“There would be casualties, of course,” Professor Muto replied soberly. “That cannot be avoided, but I believe they would not be so severe as last time. As for the skyscrapers, they would stand.” He smiled at a sudden image. “They would sway like the hula dancers in your Hawaiian Islands, they would bend and ripple, but they would not break and they would not fall. They are designed to stand the very worst.”