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  /  Expert Opinion   /  Earthquake Resistant Architecture: Designing Safe and Resilient Structures

Earthquake Resistant Architecture: Designing Safe and Resilient Structures

Text: Ar. Sneha Gurjar, Director, CEM Engineers, Mumbai and Delhi

The after-shocks of the Kahramanmaras earthquake in Turkey and the Joshimath crisis have made a global impact, compelling us to look closer into available engineering solutions for natural disasters and how to enforce them. Considering the current national and global events, safety concerns have driven architects to revisit earthquake-resistant designs.

In India, earthquakes have been recorded throughout the nation’s history, ranging in intensity within different earthquake zones, from minor tremors to major ones of devastating magnitudes. The damage caused is not just by the motion of the ground causing vertical and horizontal movement, but also the after-effects such as landslides, floods, fires and disruption to communication. Hence understanding the seismic history and threats of the locality and the ground you are building on is crucial for structural planning.

The Indian National Building Code has a general set of guidelines that necessitate accounting for seismic data from studies of regional earthquakes as a part of the design brief in the first stages of planning a project. The IS codes provide guidelines for all types of structures: buildings, industrial facilities, bridges, dams, liquid retaining tanks etc. The codes such as IS1893, IS 4326, IS 13920 IS 13827 and IS 13828 are some of the essential seismic codes, ranging from general to intensity-specific, lay down regulations to ensure that structures can respond to shocks of moderate intensities without structural damage and to shocks of heavy intensities without total collapse.

In highly seismic areas, construction entailing heavy debris such as masonry, particularly mud masonry and rubble masonry should preferably be avoided since they factor into higher loss of life in the event of an earthquake. Moreover, a minimum of M20 grade of concrete should preferably be used for all buildings over three storeys in height. Besides general design considerations and codes, the NBC also specifies guidelines for specific structural members. Therefore, considering the vertical and horizontal loads during the earthquake and after-shocks entails minute technical guidelines that must be addressed.

The codes also regulate the requirements for detailing reinforcement in beams and columns, including joint faces, splices, and anchorage requirements. Provisions are also included for calculating design shear force and detailing transverse reinforcement in beams. This becomes essential considering how columns and beams form the core structural framework, and earthquake-related compressive and expansive forces can cause a myriad of damage, such as tears and cracks that jeopardise the entire building. In the case of beams, dimensional constraints are imposed on the cross-section for members subjected to axial load and flexure.

The response to earthquakes for different structures is also affected by different types of foundation systems, as the shock intensity of an earthquake could vary locally due to variations in soil conditions. Essentially during an earthquake, the ground movement directly impacts the foundation of any building. The National Building Code provides design guidelines with response spectra for three founding strata types: rock and hard, medium, and soft soil. In-depth research and abiding by these tried and tested codes can be the difference between life and death for users.

Earthquakes not only pose a threat to the users of a structure but also to the surrounding areas in case of a collapse. Deaths in the case of major earthquakes happen not due to the shaking of the ground directly but primarily due to debris and failing structures. This makes a compelling argument that architects and engineers have an irrefutable responsibility to create safer and stronger structures that can withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters while providing refuge during such perils and the safest way to ensure structural stability and strength is by devotedly following building bylaws and codes to build resilient structures.