Reality-check and renewed challenges in earthquake engineering: Implementing low-damage structural systems - from theory to practice
Earthquake Engineering is facing an extraordinarily challenging era, the ultimate target being set at increasingly higher levels by the demanding expectations of our modern society. The renewed challenge is to be able to provide low-cost, thus more widely affordable, high-seismic-performance structures capable of sustaining a design level earthquake with limited or negligible damage, minimum disruption of business (downtime) or, in more general terms, controllable socio-economical losses. The Canterbury earthquakes sequence in 2010-2011 has represented a tough reality check, confirming the current mismatch between societal expectations over the reality of seismic performance of modern buildings. In general, albeit with some unfortunate exceptions, modern multi-storey buildings performed as expected from a technical point of view, in particular when considering the intensity of the shaking (higher than new code design) they were subjected to. As per capacity design principles, plastic hinges formed in discrete regions, allowing the buildings to sway and stand and people to evacuate. Nevertheless, in many cases, these buildings were deemed too expensive to be repaired and were consequently demolished. Targeting life-safety is arguably not enough for our modern society, at least when dealing with new building construction. A paradigm shift towards damage-control design philosophy and technologies is urgently required. This paper and the associated presentation will discuss motivations, issues and, more importantly, cost-effective engineering solutions to design buildings capable of sustaining low-level of damage and thus limited business interruption after a design level earthquake. Focus will be given to the extensive research and developments in jointed ductile connections based upon controlled rocking & dissipating mechanisms for either reinforced concrete and, more recently, laminated timber structures. An overview of recent on-site applications of such systems, featuring some of the latest technical solutions developed in the laboratory and including proposals for the rebuild of Christchurch, will be provided as successful examples of practical implementation of performance-based seismic design theory and technology.