How Earthquakes affect Reinforced Concrete Buildings

A typical RC building is made of horizontal members (beams and slabs) and vertical members (columns and walls), and supported by foundations that rest on ground. The system comprising of RC frame. The RC frame participates in resting the earthquake forces. Earthquake shaking generates inertia forces in the building, which are proportional to the building mass. Since most of the building mass is present at floor levels, earthquake induced inertia forces primarily develop at the floor levels. These forces travel downwards – through slabs and beams to columns and walls, and then to foundations from where they are dispersed to ground. As inertia forces accumulate downwards from the top of the building, the columns and walls at lower storey experience higher earthquake- induced forces and are therefore designed to be stronger than those in storey above.

Floor Bends with he Beam but moves all columns at that level together
Floor Bends with he Beam but moves all columns at that level together

Role of Floor Slabs and Masonry

Floor slabs are horizontal plate like elements, which facilitate functional use of buildings. Usually, beams and slabs at one storey level are cast together. In residential multi-story buildings, thickness of slabs is only about 110-150mm. when beams bend in the vertical direction during earthquakes, these thin slabs bend along with them (fig2a). And, when beams move with columns in the horizontal direction, the slab usually forces the beams to move together with it. In most buildings, the geometric distortion of slab is negligible in the horizontal plane; this behavior is known as the rigid diaphragm action .

After columns and floors in a RC building are cast and the concrete hardens, vertical spaces between columns and floors are usually filled-in with masonry walls to demarcate a floor into functional spaces (rooms). Normally, these masonry walls, also called infill walls, are not connected to surrounding RC columns and beams. When columns receive horizontal forces at floor levels, they try to move in horizontal direction, but masonry walls tend to resist this movement. Due to their heavy weight and thickness, these walls attract rather large horizontal forces. However, since masonry is a brittle material, these walls develop cracks once their ability to carry horizontal load is exceeded. Thus masonry walls is enhanced by mortars of good strength, making proper masonry courses, and proper packing of gaps between RC frame and masonry infill walls.

Effects of Horizontal Earthquake Vibrations

Earthquake Shaking Reverses Tension and Compresion in Structural Members

Under gravity loads, tension in the beams is at the bottom surface of the beam in the central location and is at the top surface at the ends. The level of bending moment due to earthquake loading depends on severity of shaking and can exceed that due to gravity loading. Thus, under strong earthquake shaking, the beam ends can develop tension on either of the top and bottom faces. Since concrete cannot carry this tension, steel bars are required on both faces of beams to resist reversals of bending moment.

Strength Hierarchy

For a building to remain safe during earthquake shaking, columns should be stronger than beams, and foundations should be stronger than columns. If columns are made weaker, they suffer severe local damage, at the top and bottom of a particular storey.


  1. ahmad taha August 26, 2010 Reply
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