This Material Is Key to Designing Earthquake-Resistant Buildings

Earthquake-resistant building design model

Earthquakes can occur around the world, but in the areas where they’re especially common, like California and Japan, and in areas they’re becoming more prevalent due to human activities, like Oklahoma, seismic safety is of utmost importance when constructing new buildings.

A building’s ability to withstand an earthquake can mean the difference between life and death for its inhabitants, so construction projects in quake-prone regions are quick to adopt the latest seismic retrofitting techniques to mitigate the effects of excessive shaking on their structures. 

Long considered an essential material for construction projects around the world, steel is only just now becoming known as a particularly important way to diminish earthquake damage on finished structures. New developments in steel and other metal technology have enhanced buildings’ ability to withstand the violent forces associated with earthquakes. 

Why Metal?

Conventional wisdom in the first half of the 20th century was the heavier a building was, the safer it would be in the face of an earthquake; however, recent architectural studies have found that buildings made out of materials like concrete or bricks are actually at a disadvantage when experiencing an earthquake.

As the earth moves, the weight of the building slams against the structural pieces from side to side. Therefore, the heavier the building, the more force it exerts on these structural elements, and the more likely it is to come crashing down.

However, buildings consisting primarily of steel or other metals are much better at resisting earthquakes. Steel is much lighter than concrete, but it still brings a great deal of durability to construction projects. More flexible than concrete and other building materials, steel is more likely to bend instead of break when experiencing seismic force.

Because of these attributes, buildings constructed primarily from steel require less earthquake proofing than those made from other materials. This means that it’s easier to pass seismic tests and meet building codes in earthquake-prone communities when your construction projects involve steel. Additionally, steel buildings require fewer repairs after earthquakes, lowering maintenance and insurance costs for your project.

Applying Metal to Your Structure

There are several ways to incorporate steel into your latest project to increase resilience against earthquakes:

  • Steel beams — These can be used to help secure the foundation and take advantage of the ductile strength of steel from the ground up. With base isolation, the building is essentially built to float above the foundation so that the entire structure can move as one during an earthquake.
  • Steel cladding — Constructing a light roof using profiled steel cladding helps avoid a building collapse.
  • Expanded mesh — Metal mesh can be used in walls and ceilings to reinforce the structure in a versatile, cost-efficient manner. Not only are these barriers very durable against earthquakes, but they can also withstand high winds and other weather effects.

Constructing Steel Buildings to Survive Earthquakes

Metal is growing in popularity as a cost-effective way to meet stringent earthquake codes while producing aesthetically pleasing structures. Cities from San Francisco to Tokyo to Santiago, Chile, are seeing massive investment in metal architecture because of its ability to resist earthquakes and stand the test of time.

Image Credit: metamorworks /

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