The structural damage in Chile

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Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Cameron Sinclair, executive director of Architecture for Humanity, about the scale of the damage to Chile's infrastructure from Saturday's 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

MARCO WERMAN: The widespread damage in Chile is a testament to the power of Saturday's earthquake. Even buildings designed to withstand quakes were damaged. Cameron Sinclair is Executive Director of Architecture for Humanity. Cameron, some of those buildings we thought were designed to be earthquake proof began to crack and crumble, even fall down. Is that a surprise to you?

CAMERON SINCLAIR: It's not for a couple of reasons. One is that there is a big myth that you can have an earthquake proof building. I'm sure somebody is going to call me out on this and they've got a design, but when you're looking to scale, most structures are built to resist an earthquake and to limit the loss of life. So the idea of them crumbling is not a surprise to me. The buildings that collapsed, you also have to look into the quality of construction. They may well have been designed to resist the earthquake, but unless they were built correctly, that's not going to happen.

WERMAN: So in a country like Chile, how close have they come to getting an earthquake proof building?

SINCLAIR: Chile doesn't have the kind of wealth of the United States, so the buildings have to be quite pragmatic. They don't have the kind of resources that we do. You know if you look at some of the buildings, the fact that they did withstand 8.8 is quite dramatic. So that is about as close as you can get. I don't think that we have created a structure that can be scaled and can withstand anything over a 9.

WERMAN: It's funny because I saw the other day a piece of building gear, a kind of a steel splint that's bolted into the cement and sits on one side of the studs at the ground level of the house. So when the house shakes, only one side of it kind of tilts, and apparently it's pretty good for earthquake proofing buildings. Isn't that a low cost solution?

SINCLAIR: Certainly and that's something that even when we've worked in places like Iran, they actually were using a system that was designed hundreds of years ago that was very low cost, bracing the corners of the building. Only because of a need for more housing did contractors begin to take those bracing out. What was tragic in Pakistan is a lot of the schools were designed to be seismically sound, but the contractors actually concreted over the joint systems and they all collapsed. So you know, you're sitting there saying look, we designed this so this could withstand an earthquake and you have thousands of classrooms that collapsed killing thousands of kids. So it's probably the worst thing for an architect is to have a building that they know they designed correctly but built improperly.

WERMAN: And in Chile a lot of homes are built with adobe, with mud brick, is there any movement afoot by the government to get people to change that out or to maybe underwrite individuals' construction?

SINCLAIR: There is. What's been really fascinating for me to watch from here is the speed of reaction in Chile. I'm sure that there'll be a lot of debate about whether they responded quickly to the warnings, but the fact is that today 900 Chilean architects have come together to give pro bono services and they're already involved in training up volunteers to look at housing inspections and also the rebuilding process.

WERMAN: Now you've worked in post-earthquake settings before in Iran and Turkey. What tends to dictate the speed of recovery in terms of getting buildings back up and incorporating some of the lessons that architects learn and builders learn after an earthquake.

SINCLAIR: There are a couple of different things. One, of course, is making sure that there is a chain of command. That you can get political decisions made very quickly. You're looking to build not just the recovery of a community, but the next 20, 30, 40 years. So although you want to build very quickly, you also have to make sure that the policies are in place to build back better. Secondly is the access to materials and the access to constructions technologies. In some of the urban areas you have very immediate access to those, but when you're in rural communities you may not and those are the ones that are usually hit hardest and the ones that are longest to recover. So we have to make sure that there's an equity in the rebuilding process.

WERMAN: Cameron Sinclair is the Executive Director of Architecture for Humanity. It's a non-profit that's helped people in 36 countries rebuild after disasters. Cameron very good to speak with you, thank you.

SINCLAIR: Thank you.

WERMAN: You can find out how to help Chilean quake victims at our website. We have a list of aid organizations currently accepting donations. That's at the world dot org.