The "art" of photography was invented in 1826. The use of steel-reinforced concrete started around 1876.
So, for 135 years, from 1876 to this day (2011), it has been possible to have photos of steel-reinforced concrete buildings destroyed by quakes. Newspaper archives, worldwide, are full of innumerable photos of multistory steel-reinforced concrete buildings in which their occupants were crashed to death, in the most agonizing way, when the buildings collapsed, during an earthquake.
If observers from another planet could view the material and social changes that appeared on the face of the earth during the last one hundred years, they would conclude that one of the most important factors for the existing material and social reality on the planet has been the use of steel-reinforced concrete.
The ease and speed with which humans can make a concrete building frame has enabled them to construct multi-story buildings in infinite numbers. From the moment of the arrival of this type of building, life changed for the mass of twentieth century men and women. This kind of building allowed the state to cram a great part of the population into miserable apartments in multi-story concrete buildings. The social, political, psychopathological, and even anthropological aspects of the problem of cramming millions in these "buildings-machines" has yet to be seriously addressed.
This social problem of the multi-story apartment building is magnified to a fatal degree at those parts of the Earth which are earthquake-prone.
Concrete is an intrinsically brittle material, even when reinforced with steel. (Chalk is another brittle material). A multistory concrete building cannot survive a big earthquake, if hit directly by the earthquake. The damage from a quake to a building is site specific. A building can remain intact, while another one, even a few feet away, can be destroyed completely.
Naturally, it is reasonable to ask: who is responsible for the proliferation of the concrete multi-story apartment building? As already mentioned, it is the state. Not only because it crams the masses, like sardines, in these "buildings-machines", but because, with the help of its technical "commissars", the engineers, it permits and promotes the construction of these "death-traps", in earthquake-prone areas.
So, we reach to the, rather, strange conclusion that the thousands of deaths caused by quakes is a political problem!
Among the people that helped the state to propagate or use this multi-story-building "solution" to the problem of housing ordinary people, a prominent place is held by Le Corbusier (1887-1965). Le Corbusier was born in Switzerland and at the age of 43 he became a French citizen. He was quite "enamored" to the Nazis, and he was an admirer of Henry Ford and the…General Motors!
His contribution to humanity: part of the misery that the extraterrestrial man observed during his trip on the surface of the earth.
Unfortunately, this contribution to misery and quake-induced deaths has not been adequately recognized, if at all, by historians, engineers, and intellectuals.
How could, a rather not very competent architect, create such "havoc", almost single-handed?
My estimate: The cause is a strange tendency of humans, especially of ladies, to feel that it is de rigueur to be modern, to follow the fashion, etc. [Whether this tendency is innate or acquired, does not matter. What matters, is that it is so prevalent]. Le Corbusier and his creations were the epitome of…modernity. Maybe, that was why Le Corbusier became a French citizen; to be at the center of modernity, fashion, etc.
Aside from this rather droll, yet valid, explanation, there is a more sinister one: the greed of the Portland cement industry and the automobile industry in the "democratic" nations and authoritarianism in the non-democratic nations (the Soviets, Hitler, etc).
Let us take the case of Greece:
Around 79 years ago, between 1932 and 1933, what happened at the "Exarchia Square" in Athens helped decide the fate of the city concerning its buildings and consequently helped decide the way of the life of its inhabitants.
In 1932 the construction of one of the first steel-reinforced concrete multi-story buildings, designed by a young Greek architect, started to take place at the north-eastern corner of the "Exarchia Square".
[Parenthesis: "The Athens neighborhood of 'Exarchia' is considered the scene of the anarchic scene in Greece (today). The core of the neighborhood is a tiny triangular park (the 'Exarchia Square') with its longest side measuring around 150 feet. The police raid Exarchia regularly." (This from my ZNet Commentary, of January 30, 2009).
In 1932, the Exarchia area was an upper middle-class place with only one-story or at most two-storey houses, as was all of Athens. Therefore, the multi-story building at the square was quite a sensation. End of the parenthesis.]
Before the new multi-story building at Exarchia was completed Le Corbusier visited the place and after congratulating the Greek architect, he scrawled the words "C' est tres beau" (It is very beautiful) on a wall at the entrance of the unfinished building. The words stayed there on the wall for decades, to commemorate the approval of the "great" man. Le Corbusier was 45 years old at the time and already a French citizen.
Then to crown this "artistic" masterpiece the architect invited a friend of his, a painter, to choose the color of the outer surface of the building. The painter chose a very dark blue color, which turned the edifice into a legendary "monument" for modern Athens: the "Blue Apartment Building", as it is called to this day. Unfortunately, the dark color turned the building into an "oven" during the scorching Athenian summers, so it was painted with a lighter blue color, in later years.
The Greek "Blue Apartment Building" was not a blessed event for the Greeks only, similar happy events took place all over the planet. Hitler, Stalin, et al, were in line waiting to cram their lucky citizens into the "machines".
So, the "Blue Apartment Building" has been replicated in Athens and the rest of Greece, ad nauseam, to this day, resulting in a monstrous and, more importantly, a dangerous city, quakewise.
Unfortunately for the Greek people, it so happened that the "gift" of Le Corbusier to the state, the multi-story concrete buildings (the "buildings-machines") was also a "gift" to the US Empire as an instrument of domination. During the last half of the 1940s in Greece, the US "managed" what is usually referred to as the Greek "civil war"; the nationalist army, armed and managed by the US, fought the revolted Greek communists. Using Greece as a proving ground, the US initiated the "Phoenix" philosophy: to defeat a revolution you empty the villages where the revolutionaries get their supplies. So, a part of the population of northern Greece was forced to inundate Athens and start building the monster that exists today in Athens; tens of thousands of Le Corbusier "creations".
[Note: The next case of application of the "Phoenix Program" was in Vietnam. Unfortunately, there, part of the population of the villages were executed by the CIA.]
There is a strange and mostly ignored case, which could have been a "counter argument" to the Le Corbusier "curse", at least in later years, and that is the case of Christopher Alexander, Professor of architecture at Berkeley. But this is not the place to expand on this matter.
Going back to quakes, let us go a bit deeper. Is the expression "quake-prone", mentioned previously, completely realistic?
Here are two (rather) random "samples" of the quakes, above a magnitude of 2.5 Richter(R) for the US and adjacent areas, and above 4.5 for the rest of the world, that took place over the entire planet for two separate weeks, as recorded by the United States Geological Survey (USGS):
I. From October 17 to October 24, 2011:
– Total number of quakes: 229
– Number of quakes in Alaska (out of the 229): 45
– Number of quakes in the States of America (other than Alaska): 43