How to Design a Timber Building to Code in a Seismic Region

19 September 2023

In the first instalment of their PMX 15 series, Kristen Slaven along with co-writers Mark Bauernhuber and Lily Huang describe the design choices that would help their timber building withstand a major earthquake.

When designing any building for a high seismic region, the goal is to create what engineers call an “energy-dissipating system.” During a seismic event, the accelerations from an earthquake will create strong lateral (or side-to-side) forces on the building. If those forces become too strong, they can put the building’s connections, core, and foundation at risk of collapse. An energy-dissipating system reduces that risk by limiting seismic forces “felt” by the rest of the building.

For PMX 15, our team designed a lateral system with steel bracing distributed throughout the building to resist lateral movements and forces during seismic events. In the event of an earthquake, the ductile links connecting the steel beams would serve as an energy-dissipating element (often called a “fuse”). As the building rocks left and right, the links are designed to reduce forces and absorb energy. By directing the movement forces through the link connections in a controlled manner, the lateral system would prevent these forces from reaching other parts of the building, where more damage could occur.

In simple terms, the lateral system would help absorb the earthquake without breaking, keeping the building standing. Our calculations showed that the Eccentrically Braced Frame would withstand a 1-in-2,500-years earthquake, as required by seismic code.

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