There's no stopping Mother Nature. No matter how we may try, we can't hold back the hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and floods, and trying to protect our fragile architecture with sandbags and shutters can often seem like a losing game. But there are structures in the world that can stand up to the strongest of winds and the most devastating of earthquakes. The most indestructible homes and other buildings range from floating houses that turn into emergency rafts to Japan's flexible quake-resistant skyscrapers.
What do these super-strong, disaster-proof buildings have in common? They're typically made of extremely durable materials like concrete, steel and stone, and many have been engineered to respond and adapt to the punishing effects of a disaster.
Hurricane-proof dome house in Florida
There's no question that this 'monolithic dome home' located on a beach in Pensacola, Fla. is one-of-a-kind. First of all, it looks unlike any other building you've ever seen, a white, almost shell-like concrete structure sticking out of the ground like half a sphere. But more importantly, the home of Mark and Valerie Sigler has withstood four catastrophic hurricanes including Ivan, Dennis and Katrina thanks to its one-piece concrete construction embedded with five miles of steel. The Siglers built this $7 million design after their previous home was destroyed by hurricanes Erin and Opal, and it is able to withstand 300mph winds.
Sticky rice mortar buildings in China
How is it that structures built 1,500 years ago in China have survived multiple earthquakes while newer buildings have been utterly destroyed, time and time again? The secret is a super-strong mortar made from sticky rice. Scientists have discovered that construction workers in ancient China mixed sticky rice soup with slaked lime, which is limestone that has been heated to a high temperature and then exposed to water. The combination of these two substances is nearly indestructible, and buildings made with it have even resisted demolition by modern construction equipment like bulldozers.
Raised flood-proof house
If your area is prone to flooding, there are really only two options to save your home: raise it, or allow it to float. The owners of one off-grid home on Cusabo Island off the coast of South Carolina has chosen the former approach, elevating it a full story off the ground so that tsunamis or hurricane-induced flooding can pass beneath the structure, leaving it intact. The pre-fabricated home was engineered to exceed flood zone requirements by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) using helical foundations and a steel frame as well as steel exterior wall and roof panels. This allows the 3,888-square-foot-home to be fireproof and withstand 140mph winds.
Floating Katrina houses
Not everyone can afford to custom-build a multi-million-dollar refuge. Thankfully, after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005, building experts developed housing that is not just storm-resistant, but affordable. Brad Pitt's Make it Right Foundation is among the organizations that have responded, collaborating with Morphosis Architecture on 'The Float House'. This small home is built on a chassis of polystyrene foam and covered with glass-reinforced concrete so that when floodwaters come, it is able to rise up to 12 feet on two guideposts. That way, it won't float away, and can serve as a life raft in an emergency.
Japan's earthquake-proof structures
Even the strongest materials crumble when exposed to the shocks of a powerful earthquake. That's why buildings in earthquake zones should be engineered to sway slightly to alleviate the shock. The Japan earthquake of March 2011 could have been far more destructive than it was if it weren't for the nation's stringent building codes and advanced structural engineering. A deep foundation and massive shock absorbers prevent the energy produced by an earthquake from tearing the building apart. See a video of a Tokyo skyscraper swaying during the earthquake on YouTube.