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"I can remember when the first pulsars were discovered. I was able to go and sit down and listen to graduate students talking about what their theories, to explain what pulsars really were."
- Vernor Vinge

House-of-Cards Construction  
  Architectural technique that uses computers to help buildings maintain their balance during earthquakes.  

Vinge tantalizes us with a glimpse at a future construction technique.

Juan liked to sit by the outer wall, especially when the classroom was on the third floor. You could feel the wall sway gently back and forth as the building kept its balance. That sort of thing made his ma real nervous. "One second of system failure and everything will fall apart!" she had complained at a PTA meeting. On the other hand, house-of-cards construction was cheap - and it could handle a big earthquake almost as easily as it did the morning breeze.
From Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge.
Published by Tor in 2006
Additional resources -

The implication is that a building of this kind is really like a self-balancing robot. Although most tall buildings today are built to flex with stresses like wind and mild earth tremors, as far as I know this is just an idea.

One technique that appears to be in current use is called the "isolated base" technology. This uses a flexible support placed between the foundation and the structure itself; it counteracts the motion of seismic waves. As the earthquake moves the foundation one way, the support moves the other way, and the building stays almost stationary.

I can't find anything on this kind of technique in actual use, but maybe a student of architecture or engineering could chime in.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Rainbows End
  More Ideas and Technology by Vernor Vinge
  Tech news articles related to Rainbows End
  Tech news articles related to works by Vernor Vinge

House-of-Cards Construction-related news articles:
  - Building Shaker Quake Machine
  - Flexible Building Survives Test Quakes

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