A major and disasterous earthquake has just hit Indonesia. It is the job of engineers to calculate and incorporate – as far as possible- safety margins into the structures of buildings, dams, power plants and even pipe lines. Observers have noted that the skyscrapers in Fukushima wobbled during the recent 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan.

This is intentional, as rigid structures can snap in strong winds or during earthquakes.

But the maths used to calculate SKYSCRAPER SWAY is straightforward.

The Earthquake Engineering website offers a simple explanation.

Short, rigid buildings are damaged in earthquakes because they shake very fast. 10 story buildings have a period of oscillation of about 1 second the same as the earthquake pulse. This is VERY dangerous.

Tall, flexible buildings can withstand an earthquake because they can sway. They are like a very large, slow moving tuning fork. If they are TOO RIGID they snap. If they are too flexible the people on the 100th floor would be throw all over the place.

The 59-story steel-construction Citicorp Centre, NY (pictured) has an oscillation time of 6.7 seconds. Details Google Books.

The 102-story brick clad Empire State Empire Building sways about 8cm ( 3 inches) whereas the 110-story steel -mesh World Trades Centre Towers, NY, before they collapsed swayed over 1 m ( 3 ft 5 inches).

One more thing. You want buildings to have springy foundations so they don’t snap at the base and fall over.

**Earthquake Engineering**

The idea is not to strengthen the building, but to reduce the earthquake generated seismic forces acting upon it. This can be done in 3 ways.

## 1. Base Isolation. Rubber pads or Rollers. Are used so the base does not feel the full shake or jump off foundations.

Details Base Isolation Specialists

## 2. Shock absorbers or dampers are added to the structure to dissipate the seismic shock.

Details Damper Supplier

** **

## 3. Active Tuned Mass Dampers use a computer controlled counter moving weight to actively move against the building sway.

The 508m (1,667-foot) Taipei 101 Tower would sway back and forth up to 60cm (2 feet) each way within five seconds. This according to Wired magazine is highly vomit inducing (barfomatic?).

The Taipei 101 engineers included a 662 tonne (730-ton) counter giant pendulum to act as a counter weight.Some buildings use a big block of concrete.

It is pushed in the opposite direction to the building sway to dampen the oscillation.

**Earthquake Engineering Maths**

**Take 1:**

Wired magazine includes the equation for Skyscraper Sway acceleration (See definition of terms @ Wired link):

But I’m going to use a student friendly equation from Wind Engineering for Large Structures.

Calculus Equation **here.**

Mathspigs, you can just look at this equation and see how to change it to make a building EARTHQUAKE SAFE. Keep in mind that k, the stiffness constant actually decreases for taller buildings.

Imagine you are designing a building to withstand the 8.9 magnitude earthquake. You have already added base isolation. Now you have three options to work with: building mass (m), damping constant (c) and stiffness constant (k). Remember the earthquake force is constant. If you change just the stiffness of the building (k) what happens to the distance of sway(x)?

Engineers have to come up with the optimum design for the strongest structure with least acceleration (but enough building mass for strength), greatest damping and least sway at the lowest cost.