Thursday, November 1, 2012


 Namazu is the name of the mythological giant catfish of Japan whose wiggling and tail flailing caused earth quakes and tsunamis in ancient Japan. Actually he was supposed to be still under the constant watchful eye of his keeper the god Kashima, but those pagan gods were never all that reliable. Every time Kashima went on break, and according to the union contract for the gods that was on a pretty routine basis, Namazu would start wiggling because that's what catfish do and the earth would start trembling and the tsunamis would wash ashore and everything in coastal Japan would be devastated.
So we named our school of climatological thought the "Namazu School" because we believe that we should expect the unexpected. We believe that climate can and has changed in the past rapidly, evenly almost instantly for a wide variety of reasons beyond our control. The fact that so many now believe that the climate is changing because of our actions doesn't take away from the fact that it can and has done it on its own with no help from us in the past. So, while we're all for reducing man's carbon foot print we don't think that being 100% successful at leading emissions free lives will stop any solar flares, orbit wobble, volcanic activity, etc. driven climate change.  And the fossil record tells us it can happen suddenly.

 We also believe in weather, that within a particular climate zone it varies wildly over the years and centuries. Climate zones are wide. Here is one I'm familiar with, the American humid subtropical. The American humid subtropical climate zone is the climate of the southeastern United States. The simple definition of "sub tropical " is no month where the average temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit . In Annapolis the average January temperature ( the average of the average daily high and daily low temperatures) is 33 degrees Fahrenheit making Annapolis the northern most population center qualifying as a subtropical reporting station in the United States, just barely. Most people think of a subtropical climate as being more like New Orleans where the coldest month , January has typical daily high temperature of 63. Corpus Christi, Texas has a January average high temperature of 70. But both New Orleans and Corpus Christi have seen snow more than once in the last 120 years of reliable weather record keeping. Both stations have experienced single digit night time subfreezing temperatures for their century records. Annapolis being on the northern range of this climate experiences the record lows of New Orleans and Corpus Christi every year. But when we average it out over the long  run,  from Annapolis to Corpus Christi along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States every one gets through January averaging above freezing.

So when that apparently freak cold spell hits and they hit everywhere in the zone though more frequently and severe on the northern end; is it a harbinger of climate change, or just an extreme within the range of weather?  Generally these things are just the extremes of the weather found within a climatic zone. Namazu believes that architecture must be able to handle at a minimum the extremes of the climatic zone in which the building is to be located. But extremes can mean far more than temperature. Lets let Namazu explain. Namazu you have the floor.

 Thanks Og, I appreciate your introduction but as you can see by the illustration I don't do well deposited on a floor. That picture is from the last time Kashima took a coffee break.. I did what a catfish has gotta do and wiggled. and do to my size the earth shook. You can see all the angry Japanese swarming all over me beating and poking me and I can hardly blame them, but I'm alive and gotta wiggle. Well I've wiggled about a few times since then but you haven't seen swarms of Japanese assaulting any giant catfish of late have you.? That's in large part folks because the Japanese, a short time after the picture above was painted , finally accepted that it is in the nature of a catfish to wiggle. So centuries before the United States was a gleam in George Washington's eye  the  Japanese began to think about how to build in a land where the earth trembles , the waves lash, and the wind howls on a regular basis, you know all of the stuff you have to expect when your giant offshore catfish wiggles, and you know we're gonna wiggle. Adapting their architecture worked so well for the Japanese for such a long time that Kashima took an early god pension and moved to Pebble Beach, California and I pretty much haven't had to suppress my natural wiggly tendencies.. But here is the lesson for America in the wake of  Frankenstorm Sandy. The first Japanese response to earth shattering natural violence wasn't "Dade County roofing standards". It was in the opposite direction, homes and public buildings that could be constructed rapidly and inexpensively, and easily replaced while  still having architectural appeal. "Architectural appeal" is the difference between a building as a box, and as eye candy.


What you see above is a traditional Japanese single family home . It consists of a raised wooden platform forming the floor, stout wooden post framing and walls made of thick laminated paper. Roofing materials vary but are rarely expensive. When the structure is hit with typhoon force winds the walls blow out, the roofing material blows away and the owner is left with the framing and floor , usually. The furnishings are deliberately sparse note the picture below of a typical hearth or kitchen for such a home.


 The design has integrity from exterior to interior. The most valuable furnishings could be stuffed in a sack and taken with the family into the cave shelters in the hills when the storms came. If the earth quaked and demolished the house around them their chances of survival were good due to the light weight construction materials. These homes could be rebuilt in only a few days at a price that most middle class families could cover out of current income. Yet the houses were warm in winter, cool in summer and dry in the rain, perfectly adequate for the normal range of average weather and sesmic activity. But every home owner expected to rebuild at least a couple of times in a life time if not four or five times. Most home owners could afford to do so. Now Japan had its share of stone palaces and forts and some of them held up to the worst nature could throw at them but these were for emperors and their closest associates. The average "Joe Smuckatelly" Japanese family man built nice, architecturally interesting but basically disposable houses. 

 Back in northern Europe which was seismically less active and generally free of tropical storms systems people built stone houses with stone weight bearing walls. One of the great inventions of the Americans is the "baloon house" that most of us live in today with stout framing doing the weight bearing of the roof and the walls being enclosed with brick veneer ,  or siding. Basically the Americans reinvented the Japanese home and then ruined the design by going too heavy and expensive  on the walls, then filling the structure with expensive furniture. But down on the Gulf Coast where hurricanes are frequent and severe a local architectural forms appeared based on the West Indies Raised Cottage.. 

File:20 South Lafayette Street in Mobile.jpg

    This restored Creole cottage,  sits in Mobile, Alabama an early French settlement on the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo: Altairsfar, 2008, released to the Public domain

 These structures were built on piers or chain walls of varying heights based on the designers estimate of potential high water. Roofs were often tin. The walls were more substantial than the Japanese traditional home and people usually put more valuable stuff inside. But these homes could be reconstructed fast by skilled carpenters and at reasonable costs. They are disappearing from the U.S. Gulf Coast today since after each hurricane we raise the the structural requirements of the building code for replacements , and thus raise the cost of replacement. After each storm Americans try to mandate a building code to withstand the last known worse case storm. The ultimate standard is of course the "light house standard" which the old U.S. Light House Service built to before being absorbed by the U.S. Coast Guard. Many of these fine old light houses were in very exposed locations and are still standing after more than a century. But what people over look is that many did not survive their worst case storm.

 Now I'm just an old catfish but to me the lesson is clear. After each destructive storm the local government gets a another chance at designing a city or village plan and building code that is reality based. That should include the authorization of disposable buildings in exceptionally exposed locations as long as they are not fire, or police stations, hospitals, old folks homes , public libraries or court houses. These critical public buildings should be built on rubble mounds above the highest anticipated flood level and built to light house standards with self contained electrical generating capacity. Those homes and condos down on the the beach , disposable traditional designs. To get a building permit the home owner must show a cash reserve for a replacement structure or insurance. Insurance can be written for such structures similar to mortgage insurance. The early years would feature high premiums as payments build up to a reserve of the replacement costs, then slack off if the structure survives 15 to 20 years. Few will make twenty five. The owners replace these inexpensive but classic structures and start the insurance cycle again. Some pretty neat homes based on the west indies raised cottage design can be built for a price comparable to a luxury car. So that's it folks stop thinking one size fits all and muscling every structure into the modern day myth of the light house standard and set appropriate building codes that include disposable buildings of classic design that are meant for rapid assembly. Rebuilding after storms will take less time and cost the public less if we'd just stop being shocked by a little wiggle from the old giant catfish. The Japanese of late have been forgetting this lesson from ther ancient history and now I have to worry about that damn Kashima coming out of retirement.

 By the way you Americans have a giant catfish too who divides his time between the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. He just goes by "Jack". When Jack gets near New Orleans he sometime assumes human form and walks Bourbon street as a local character they call "Jack the Cat."  Only the most elderly Cajuns know him for who he is, the giant catfish whose wiggling causes the hurricanes to form. Now it seems only the most elderly Cajuns know the old building techniques and carpenter designs. The most elderly Cajuns watched the out of state developers come into the state starting in the 1950s and building slab houses that looked like they were designed for "Anywhere USA". They watched them blow away or flood in Betsy, Camille, Katrina, Rita, and Issac. After each storm federal officials would bend the arms of local office holders to create more rigid and expensive structural building codes. Regional  traditional forms of architecture disappeared and each subsequent storm became more expensive to recover from and recovery took longer. When the Cajuns asked their parents and grand parents about why this was happening they just replied ......"Those Yankees just don't know Jack". Now my friends I Namazu have explained all . There was no Frankenstorm, that was just Jack wiggling about. It's what we giant catfish do, he will do it again. Stop listening to Yankee Feds who don't know Jack and start listening to the wisdom of your ancestors who knew jack and build for the region, the way the region really is, some places are so exposed that only disposable buildings will do. Well ,have a swift recovery, and this time get to know Jack. 

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