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Architecture

German building style protects against quakes

German professor Georg Pegels believes half-timbered houses - like the medieval homes tourists come to see in the German countryside - can save lives in earthquake prone regions. He told DW about his plans for Iran.

DW: Mr Pegels, why do you want to bring German-style half-timbered houses to Iran?

George Pegels (pictured above, center): We researched on the Internet, together with summer schools from the German Academic Exchange Service and some 400 students from developing countries, to see which apartment buildings have survived earthquakes in developing countries - and where people were not killed. And we found out that half-timbered houses have survived even the worst earthquakes and the people could continue living in those houses afterwards.

Why is that the case?

Half-timbered houses bear the strain of an earthquake very differently from modern buildings made of reinforced concrete. If you look carefully, half-timbered houses have special diagonal beams. And these diagonals are critical because they keep the house from falling down like a parallelogram in the case of horizontal tremors, which are the most difficult to withstand.

You have continued with the project during the semester break and you're planning a trip to Iran in October. How far along are you in reaching your goal of bringing German half-timbered houses to Iran?

Just talking about it is not enough to convince people. You have to take concrete action. I found two very diligent, intelligent and endearing partners in Iran who have done something crazy with me: Together we founded a construction company for earthquake-proof buildings. That was about five years ago. And little by little we're building it up by giving the staff specialized training, like in welding techniques, for example. And we've already built a number of earthquake-proof schools, hospitals and sports centers.

Krämer Bridge in Erfurt

The Krämer Bridge in Erfurt is a half-timbered building - but it hasn't had to withstand many earthquakes

How does the cooperation work with your colleagues in Iran?

Both partners were from the technical university in Isfahan. It was not totally unproblematic for them to work with a German professor because that's sometimes frowned upon in Iran. The younger of the two had worked with me before as a guest professor at the University of Wuppertal and that was enough for his home university to dismiss him. Then I helped him become professor of building innovation at the university in Brighton, England. But I still work together with the other colleague in Iran. However, the cooperation with Germany is a risk for him in his career as a professor.

What are your plans for your trip to Iran in October?

I have made a fairly large private investment in this construction firm and purchased a big CNC sheet metal cutting machine here in Germany. It's a machine that cuts, drills and labels finished construction parts out of raw sheet metal. The parts fit right away and don't need to be adjusted and repaired after the fact, which is common in countries like Iran.

Fortunately I've already managed to export the machine according to the embargo regulations. Now we are working on identifying and repairing the damage that was caused to the machine when it was transported and stored at the customs office in Isfahan.

When I go to Iran in October, I will show the staff there how to use the machine properly. It's scheduled to start production in October.

For many years, Georg Pegels has worked on bringing half-timbered houses to earthquake-prone regions of the world. In Iran, hundreds of people were killed in August when an earthquake struck the north-western part of the country, and thousands of others were injured. More secure building practices can help prevent such tragedies in the future, he says.

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