Dubai’s older buildings at risk of quake damage

The earthquake resistance of buildings in Dubai was questioned by a panel of experts at the Middle East Architect roundtable, which took place while a 7.8-magnitude tremor hit Iran.

A discussion on earthquakes was prompted after the roundtable participants were evacuated from the shaking building in Dubai.

Bart Leclercq, head of structures for engineering firm WSP Middle East, believes that Dubai’s modern stock is built to withstand a major tremor.

Leclercq said: “All buildings are checked by authorities and are built under certain conditions.

“We all know that this is an earthquake prone area given its proximity to Iran and all buildings are designed to withstand this.”

He remarked that the code that is followed “overestimates the risk of earthquakes” as there has never been a tremor of great magnitude in Dubai.

Leclercq added that he has “no concern” over the capacities of Dubai’s modern buildings in the event of a “really big earthquake”.

However, the risk of earthquake damage would be greater in Dubai’s older buildings, according to Yahya Jan, vice president and design director of Norr Group Consultants.

Jan remarked: “We have a huge building stock but there are buildings in Deira and in Bur Dubai that were not designed to such codes.

“We know that in earthquakes, it is often the shorter buildings, not the taller buildings, that are more susceptible.

“My main concern is more about the older stock – the five-storey buildings that are touching each other and I can imagine there is a risk there.”

Leclercq agreed: “Older buildings are more susceptible and the proximity of buildings matter – when they are too close they start hitting each other and that is when damage starts happening.”

Yet Jan asserted that there is no such thing as an earthquake-proof building.

“Earthquake design is statistical – it is based on probability. You can never design for the worst earthquake so there is always a risk that a mega earthquake comes, no matter what code you design to, it can crumble,” he stated.