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Lesson Learned: 2022 Earthquake Mitigation in Baguio (Opinion)

Baguio City Architecture Best Practices on Earthquake Mitigation and Design in the Philippines

Barely two weeks ago, I have taken a trip to Baguio City to perform an ocular site investigation on a new design contract awarded to the firm. It was my first time visiting the city ever since I was a toddler and I had no recollection on how Baguio looked like, felt like, and smelled like.

The journey up the top, approximately 1,500 meters above Metro Manila was surreal. Baguio, along with the nearby provinces had an entirely different ecosystem compared to what I have been accustomed with. I was fascinated with the construction of their homes, mostly perched on top of rolling terrain. Rip-raps and retaining wall were a common thing.

What I love most about my work as an architect is the opportunity to mix work with play. Projects like these allow me to travel to various parts of the country. Palawan, Pangasinan, Batangas, Pampanga, Cebu, Tacloban are only some of the few places I’ve visited, now with Baguio as an addition. Baguio City truly left me stunned.

While on a horse ride around Wright Park, I admired the scenery and the architecture of some of Baguio’s residential and commercial architecture. Apart from the design, there is one thing I noticed: the structural elements used in their buildings were about four times larger in proportion than those I am used to seeing in Metro Manila. A clear indication that the people of Baguio has learned their lesson from the disastrous earthquake in the 90’s.

During my walk, I examined the reinforcements used in the beams and columns. Reinforcements were mostly 12 mm in diameter or larger. The cross-sectional area of their beams and columns were significantly larger than what I normally see in the Metro, with spans not exceeding 4 meters from center to center. There was a certain element of stockiness in the structural design of those buildings under construction. From there, I was reminded of the devastating earthquake that shook Luzon in 1990. “They’ve probably learned their lesson”, I said to myself.

It makes sense. Apart from landslides, I have not heard much regarding structural failures in buildings within Baguio City. Most of the damage were seen in Ilocos, specifically Vigan. It makes a lot of sense how they value structural integrity when building their homes putting high priority on earthquake mitigation. If they hadn’t put high value on structural integrity, Baguio could have been in ruins by now. The reported 7.3-Magnitude Earthquake, is 0.5 Magnitude less than the reported 7.8 Magnitude Earthquake in 1990. According to experts, an earthquake above 7.0 Magnitude is considered a major earthquake that can bring on serious damage.

Perhaps this is one thing we should look into. The 1968 Casiguran Earthquake caused serious structural damage on a number of buildings with Metro Manila, specifically in the city of Manila. Despite this, how can we be so quick to forget the potential havoc earthquakes can wreak into our lives? It seems that we have forgotten how potentially dangerous earthquakes can be, that we opt to build homes that are designed below the acceptable safety standards.

Do we really need to learn from the upcoming “Big One” for us to learn how dangerous DIY home building is? What will it take to educate the Filipino people to be aware and proactive in maintaining the structural integrity of their homes? How can the concept of Earthquake Mitigation be successfully ingrained into our minds?

Baguio City has surpassed this potential threat thanks to the value they put on proper structural design, and we should too. It is understandable that hiring a proper team of professionals may seem ‘expensive’ for most, but the value and peace of mind it will bring you is worth the cost. Earthquake Mitigation should be top consideration when building your home. Shelter is one of basic human needs supposed to protect our families from the elements. Saving on professional fees and opting for cheap labor may not cost you money, but will cost you your life. -ArLa

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