Volume 36, Issue 3, March 2001

Too Close for Comfort

Seattle’s Recent Earthquake was Personal

by Dez Farnady

 The Seattle earthquake of February 28th is a massive disaster for the world of glass art. The dollar loss was in the serious millions (see related story, page 26). Thousands of valuable objects found their way into the art cullet bin. The size of the quake, combined with the fact that Seattle is the glass art capital of the United States, increased the amount of damage far beyond what it may have been in a lot of other places. There was not a lot of information on glass damage, but I understand there was some flying control tower glass at SeaTac Airport.

I guess it takes something like this to validate my concerns for some of the glass applications I have written about in the past. I believe in 21st century engineering and our ability to design earthquake-proof glazing systems—I am just not sure that we apply them to comparatively low-cost residential and commercial projects.

I have recently seen promotional publications on some very large foreign glass structures. There are several proposed major glass projects on the drawing boards for buildings such as San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum, and East Coast projects with glass concepts the size of the Superdome. And, while I love them and think they are marvelous, they cause chills to run down my spine. Now I finally know why.

For some reason Seattle’s quake was the revelation to me. In past articles, I have expressed concerns about glass sizes and safety issues in both vertical and slope glazing applications. I have been accused of being too cautious in my skylight glazing ideas and was beginning to think that everyone else was right and I was crazy and my conservatism was silly. But today my subconscious fears were revealed like a stroke of lightning: I live right on the San Andreas Fault. My home is 20 miles from the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake and its consequences cost me—out of pocket—more than $40,000 just to put my house back to where it was the day before the earth shook.

On October 17, 1989, every piece of furniture in my house was dumped face down on the floor. Books were in a 3-foot pile in the middle of my den and the bookcase was face down on top of them. Chunks of plaster was strewn all over the house with little left on the walls and ceilings. Yes, there was broken glass. There was also foundation damage that cost a whole lot more than you would think. Every bottle, jar and plate was on the kitchen floor—most of them in pieces. Shelves that were still standing had been cleared of all their content. There was no water. There was no power. In general it was a nasty time and I don’t wish it on my worst enemy.

The glass companies of Northern California did “land office business” for months afterwards. The damage was mind boggling up and down the street. Thank goodness no one in my family was hurt, although, obviously, there are a few subconscious scars, and I clearly have one of them. A lot of people around the world live in earthquake country, just like a lot of people live in hurricane country and in tornado country—I will continue to be cautious, thank you very much.


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