Jerome Hajjar, CDM Smith Professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University is an expert on building steel structures, structure resiliency, and earthquake engineering and has published more than 200 papers on these topics.
He talks about the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, California, that became the costliest natural disaster in the United States’ history. The exorbitant $20 billion in property damages was due to steel structures that fractured unexpectedly. Many of these buildings were nearly brand-new. Hajjar explained that buildings all over the world have succumbed to quakes because they were designed never to collapse at all. As a result, these structures are not resilient to unforeseen events.
Hajjar wants to transfigure the field of construction engineering so that new buildings are designed with the concept of collapse in mind. His model for a truly resilient steel structure includes buildings that can rock free of their foundations and have connecting posts that snap the building back to vertical when they begin to sway. While it may take years before his design ideologies are incorporated into international building codes, Hajjar said features of it have already been adopted. For example, the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts building was designed with the energy-absorbing fuses that Hajjar tested.
Another aspiration of Hajjar is to make the whole field of construction engineering more sustainable. He said that when buildings get demolished, only about 6 percent of the steel is reused. “I’d like to see that number go up dramatically,” Hajjar said. He is working on redesigning steel beams so they can be dismantled and removed without being damaged and be reused. He is also actively working research documenting the need to develop offshore wind facilities.
“I think we have a moral imperative to integrate sustainability much more in engineering design,” Hajjar said. “These are the kinds of things that can change a culture.”