Quicker, quake-proof skyscrapers

December 4, 2013 by Renee Meiller
Rendering of The Martin. Credit: Cary Kopczynski and Co.

Peel back the outer layers of a skyscraper built in an area vulnerable to earthquakes and you'll find a tangle of steel-reinforced concrete beams that span doors, windows and other openings in the structure's many supporting walls.

Those coupling beams play a critical role in helping a skyscraper withstand the effects of an earthquake. Yet, says structural engineer Cary Kopczynski, coupling beams reinforced with rebar are congested and difficult to build.

Kopczynski's Bellevue, Washington, firm designs high-rise buildings in seismically active areas on the west coast. Nearly a decade ago, he began exploring ways to simplify coupling beam construction.

Along the way, he met C.K. Wang Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Gustavo Parra-Montesinos, whose research centers around using fiber-reinforced concrete to improve the behavior of buildings during an earthquake. With University of Michigan colleague James K. Wight and students, Parra-Montesinos developed and tested a fiber-reinforced concrete coupling beam design that virtually eliminates the otherwise standard labyrinth of rebar—yet maintains the building's integrity during an earthquake.

Kopczynski recognized the design's potential and incorporated the design into The Martin, a luxury high-rise apartment building that opened in 2013 in trendy Midtown Seattle. Since the new design wasn't part of the American Concrete Institute building code, Kopczynski worked closely with Steve Pfeiffer, engineering and technical codes manager in the Seattle Department of Planning and Development staff. Kopczynski's presentation to the department included detailed results of Parra-Montesinos' and Wight's research. "What they were claiming was better performance and reduced congestion," says Pfeiffer. "We thought it was good enough to merit a detailed review."

Pfeiffer, who earned his bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1978 from UW-Madison, engaged two independent peer reviewers. After some minor modifications, he ultimately approved The Martin's coupling beam design.

Although The Martin is its first application, Kopczynski believes the design will see broader use in the future. "It enabled us to remove a significant portion of the reinforcing bar—and the bars that it removed are the most challenging to place, so they're more likely to be constructed properly," he says. "It streamlines construction, reduces cost and speeds up the schedule. And a lot of good things happen."

Explore further: New building design withstands earthquake simulation (Video)

Related Stories

New building design withstands earthquake simulation (Video)

February 26, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at the University of Michigan simulated an off-the-charts earthquake in a laboratory to test their new technique for bracing high-rise concrete buildings. Their technique passed the test, withstanding ...

Speedy analysis of steel fiber reinforced concrete

November 4, 2013

Concrete is the world's most popular building material: We use it to bridge rivers and valleys, build walls and line tunnels. The most common form of concrete is steel reinforced – a principle that will be familiar to anyone ...

Purdue tests nuclear plant design at Bowen Lab

January 12, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Purdue University researchers are working with Westinghouse Electric Co. to ensure that a new design for nuclear power plants will stand up to strong earthquakes.

Recommended for you

Swiss unveil stratospheric solar plane

December 7, 2016

Just months after two Swiss pilots completed a historic round-the-world trip in a Sun-powered plane, another Swiss adventurer on Wednesday unveiled a solar plane aimed at reaching the stratosphere.

Solar panels repay their energy 'debt': study

December 6, 2016

The climate-friendly electricity generated by solar panels in the past 40 years has all but cancelled out the polluting energy used to produce them, a study said Tuesday.

Wall-jumping robot is most vertically agile ever built

December 6, 2016

Roboticists at UC Berkeley have designed a small robot that can leap into the air and then spring off a wall, or perform multiple vertical jumps in a row, resulting in the highest robotic vertical jumping agility ever recorded. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.