I honestly know very little about what makes a building more prepared for seismic activity. I imagine that it has to do with allowing for flexibility in the areas that attach. I also think that the materials that we would use in Ohio for our construction are probably much different than the materials used for these buildings. Other than a generic knowledge on the topic, I don't have much!
The section in the book about seismic-safe buildings is full of great information on how to protect buildings from earthquake damage. The overall idea of reinforcing to make stronger and less likely to snap is found in many features. The features not only strengthen, but also allow the building to move or protect from the energy of seismic waves. Some ideas are shear walls to transfer the energy down, tension ties to absorb and scatter the energy, and base isolators to prevent some of the energy from the ground from even entering the building. These look like shocks at the bottom of the building. The cross braces are found all around the building. Finally, the dampers are like shocks found on a car, and flexible pipes are able to bend and pass energy through them. While these are costly measures, they can definitely help a building survive earthquake shocks.
I did find some more information on-line about building safer homes. The goal is to protect the building from movement that occurs in a side to side motion, as well as an up and down motion. So, balancing the load to resist both motions is a good idea. Also, the actual ground that the building is on does matter. Softer ground can actually allow the building to just sink in! Using lighter materials, bracing throughout the structure, and materials that have some bend/yield to them is recommended.
I am excited to see the buildings that we come up with. I am thinking that offering a mix of materials will allow students to test out some of the ideas from the research that they have done. Using both straws and Popsicle sticks, plastic and card board, marshmallows, and various other scrap material should make for an interesting set of designs. I think students will focus on building a very solid base, as this was stressed in several resources. Playing with the height of the buildings will be interesting!