Flexible Building Survives Test Quakes

A replaceable steel fuse used in conjunction with steel tendons has allowed buildings to survive test earthquakes in excess of magnitude 7.


(Schematic diagram of the rocking table: inset - replaceable steel fuse)

In the illustration shown above, white structure simulates the weight of a three-story building. The steel-braced frame is shown in red. The inset details the replaceable steel fuse at the base of the frame.

The entire structure sits on top of a shake table, which simulates powerful earthquakes.

"Most buildings that we design today for large earthquakes are designed such that when there is a large earthquake, the building, in a sense, sacrifices itself to save the occupants," said Greg Deierlein, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University who led the research team.

"What is unique about these frames is that, unlike conventional systems, they actually rock off their foundation under large earthquakes," Deierlein said.

Steel "fuses" that sit at the bottom of the frame also keep the rest of the building from sustaining damage. The fuses are built to flex and dissipate the seismic energy, which confine the damage to certain areas. Like electrical fuses, the steel fuses are easily replaced when they "blow out."

"The idea of this structural system is that we concentrate the damage in replaceable fuses," Deierlein said.

Vernor Vinge gave us a fictional plan view of this kind of architecture in his 2007 novel Rainbows End.

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... house-of-cards construction was cheap - and it could handle a big earthquake almost as easily as it did the morning breeze.
(Read more about Vinge's house-of-cards construction)

From LiveScience.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/19/2009)

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