• 01.14.13

Making Tsunami-Proof Buildings By Growing Them From The Ocean

The Kogami project wants to form artificial coral reefs to slow down deadly waves before they hit shore. And then they want to use that technology to grow cities that are better equipped to handle a disaster.

Not too long ago, Westerners might have been hard pressed to define the word “tsunami.” But after the major disasters of the past decade, the threat of giant waves is felt around the world–and is the inspiration for many projects to help people in future emergencies.


That’s where Kogami comes in. Kogami is an NGO that was established seven years ago in order to reduce loss of life from earthquakes and tsunamis.

The group soon realized they needed more scientific information before they could go to the government or to the community. They used current research on earthquakes and tsunamis to develop a program to increase the capacity of the community to deal with disasters and advocate for the government to develop policy based on community needs.

One of the group’s projects is to explore natural solutions to tsunamis, like coral reefs that break up wave energy before it reaches the shore. To do that, Kogami has created a design for a prototype scheme for the Sumatran city of Padang–a place under heavy threat from tsunamis. It uses the concept of cathode accretion–putting a small electrical charge in the water that draws calcium carbonate (the stuff reefs are made of) out of solution and onto an iron-based skeleton. The calcium slowly accumulates, creating an artificial reef and wave barrier.

In addition to reefs, cathode accretion could be used to build structures that would be community hubs and also work as tsunami protection. When disaster strikes, the local community would go to the structures for refuge. Raised access from the city and multiple access stairs ensure that everyone has the opportunity to gain access to the safety it offers. Because the buildings are literally grown from the ocean environment, the hope is that they’d be more resistant to the damage caused by a tsunami.

The project is still very much a concept, but in communities where tsunamis are a constant risk, new design paradigms that are resilient to the damage of a giant wave are going to be necessary, instead of picking up and rebuilding after each event.