; ; ; ; ; Civil Engineering Blog: The Earthquake-Proof Building That Is Built to Collapse


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Friday, October 15, 2010

The Earthquake-Proof Building That Is Built to Collapse

The Brilliant Idea: A replaceable, building-wide system to help hospitals, apartment buildings and office towers survive severe seismic shaking.

 Innovators: Gregory Deierlein, Stanford University; Jerome F. Hajjar, Northeastern University

"Elastic high-strength steel cables run down the center of the system’s frame. The cables control the rocking of the building and, when the earthquake is over, pull it back into proper alignment."

"A steel frame situated around a building’s core or along exterior walls offers structural support. The frame’s columns, however, are free to rock up and down within steel shoes secured at the base."

"Steel fuses (in blue) at the frame’s center twist and contort to absorb seismic energy. Like electrical fuses, when they “blow out” they can be replaced, restoring the structural system to pre-earthquake conditions."

For decades, the goal of seismic engineers has seemed straightforward: Prevent building collapse. And so they add steel braces to a skyscraper’s skeleton or beefier rebar to concrete shear walls. After absorbing the brunt of seismic shaking, however, the compromised structures often must be demolished. “The building, in a sense, sacrifices itself to save the occupants,” says Gregory Deierlein, a Stanford University civil and environmental engineer. A team Deierlein led with Jerry Hajjar, a Northeastern University engineer, hopes to change that, designing a system that protects both people and the structures they live and work in.

Last fall, the engineers successfully tested a 26-foot-tall, three-story, steel-frame building outfitted with the new system, built atop the E-Defense shake table—the world’s largest earthquake simulator—in Miki City, Japan. Steel “fuses,” not structural elements, absorbed the shock of an earthquake greater than magnitude 7, and cables pulled the building back into plumb once the shaking stopped. After an earthquake of that scale, the deformed fuses could be replaced in about four days—while the building remained occupied. Jim Malley of the San Francisco firm Degenkolb Engineers calls the system the next step in the evolution of green building. “As structural engineers,” he says, “our sustainable design is the ability not to have to tear buildings down after earthquakes, but to use them for hundreds of years.”


  1. Nice post! The technology like this can be very much useful for construction of the earthquake resistant in some earth quake prone area.
    Construction technology

  2. This is such great invention. No, it's GENIUS!! How can I get the apartment building I live in one of these earthquake proof things??? The building I live in seems like its a parking garage. I get scared just thinking of an earthquake happening and this place collapsing. It shakes a lot with just a 3.2-3.4 magnitude. who ever is in charge I live at 1829 6th avenue oakland, CA.

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  6. nice post.
    Very informative and useful

  7. the power of earthquake could be predicted, but after we've the earthquake disaster, how does we know?

    im proud in engineering technology, especially civil & structure.,..:)

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  11. Excellent article. This technology is actually helpful for builders, who build the buildings in earthquake areas. I am conjointly proud of applied science technology. We are sharing here some building engineering business report . I hope, it is a terribly helpful for builders and contractors.

  12. Right you are! I must be blind or something. My bad! I updated it now so it has all the notes. Thanks for checking it!
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