All traditional construction materials and methods need to be adapted to modern seismic standards.
The concern with mud construction is the tremendous weight involved.
There are things that can be done to keep mud structures from collapsing in strong earthquakes. It takes some of the simplicity out of mud and it may constrain some aesthetic and artistic flexibility, but a creative mind ought to be able to work with it.
Most of the deaths (close to 50,000) in Bam, Iran occurred not in the old mud citadel but in modern adobe-walled homes.
Jay, the concern with the weight of mud construction is not in engineering a stable structure but in the damage done if that structure fails.
Given a two foot wide wall of mud, four or eight inches of fired brick or stone, hay bales, a timber frame infilled with brick, tile, light clay straw or wattle and daub, a conventional two by four wall, which one would most rather have their child sleeping next to in the event of an earthquake?
RC is in its infancy when compared to traditional methods.
The primary weakness in RC is not in the design but in how well the design is followed. Use of out of spec material and workmanship are a problem with all methods.
Traditional vernacular architecture does not always improve and adapt after catastrophic failure. It depends on the culture. Often, people will rebuild the same high-risk structures that killed their families because it is expedient and it is the way it has always been done.
....much of it is not particularly expensive or complex.
Handmade and owner built does not have to equate to shoddy or unsophisticated (which often can be applied to what "professionals" do). Mud homes can be built to survive powerful earthquakes but it takes some thought and skill. Mud construction, good mud construction, is not simple. Study it, then practice until you get it right, then build a home. Notice, I did not say not to do it. Just do it correctly.
I to love this medium, yet do not support or condone the use of it without structural armatures being designed into the matrix of the building. Even traditional Pueblos that I have helped restore on Hopi, Dine, and Pueblo reservations have architecture elements that reinforce the design.
in the second or so pick this building technique prevents wall collapse by having each brick "isolated?" which allows them to move in tectonic events without the wall falling? It was also built in a pyramid form which has added to its earthquake durability.
It was built using the “bookshelf” technique – placing small rectangular adobe bricks (6 million of them) vertically leaving a space between, and putting plaster only on the upper and lower parts. This provided enough give to absorb centuries of shocks.