Seismic Base Isolation Technique for Building Earthquake Resistance

It is easiest to see the principle at work by referring directly to the most widely used of these advanced techniques, known as base isolation. A base isolated structure is supported by a series of bearing pads, which are placed between the buildings and building foundation.

Base Isolation Technique
Base Isolation Technique

The concept of base isolation is explained through an example building resting on frictionless rollers. When the ground shakes, the rollers freely roll, but the building above does not move. Thus, no force is transferred to the building due to the shaking of the ground; simply, the building does not experience the earthquake.

Now, if the same building is rested on the flexible pads that offer resistance against lateral movements (fig 1b), then some effect of the ground shaking will be transferred to the building above. If the flexible pads are properly chosen, the forces induced by ground shaking can be a few times smaller than that experienced by the building built directly on ground, namely a fixed base building (fig 1c). The flexible pads are called base-isolators, whereas the structures protected by means of these devices are called base-isolated buildings. The main feature of the base isolation technology is that it introduces flexibility in the structure.

As a result, a robust medium-rise masonry or reinforced concrete building becomes extremely flexible. The isolators are often designed, to absorb energy and thus add damping to the system. This helps in further reducing the seismic response of the building. Many of the base isolators look like large rubber pads, although there are other types that are based on sliding of one part of the building relative to other. Also, base isolation is not suitable for all buildings. Mostly low to medium rise buildings rested on hard soil underneath; high-rise buildings or buildings rested on soft soil are not suitable for base isolation.

Concept of Base Isolation
Concept of Base Isolation

Lead-rubber bearings are the frequently-used types of base isolation bearings. A lead rubber bearing is made from layers of rubber sandwiched together with layers of steel. In the middle of the solid lead “plug”. On top and bottom, the bearing is fitted with steel plates which are used to attach the bearing to the building and foundation. The bearing is very stiff and strong in the vertical direction, but flexible in the horizontal direction.

How it Works

To get a basic idea of how base isolation works, first examine the above diagram. This shows an earthquake acting on base isolated building and a conventional, fixed-base, building. As a result of an earthquake, the ground beneath each building begins to move. . Each building responds with movement which tends towards the right. The buildings displacement in the direction opposite the ground motion is actually due to inertia. The inertia forces acting on a building are the most important of all those generated during an earthquake.

In addition to displacing towards right, the un-isolated building is also shown to be changing its shape from a rectangle to a parallelogram. We say that the building is deforming. The primary cause of earthquake damage to buildings is the deformation which the building undergoes as a result of the inertial forces upon it.

Response of Base Isolated Buildings

The base-isolated building retains its original, rectangular shape. The base isolated building itself escapes the deformation and damage-which implies that the inertial forces acting on the base isolated building have been reduced. Experiments and observations of base-isolated buildings in earthquakes to as little as ¼ of the acceleration of comparable fixed-base buildings.

Acceleration is decreased because the base isolation system lengthens a buildings period of vibration, the time it takes for a building to rock back and forth and then back again. And in general, structures with longer periods of vibration tend to reduce acceleration, while those with shorter periods tend to increase or amplify acceleration.

Spherical Sliding Base Isolation

Spherical Sliding Base Isolation
Spherical Sliding Base Isolation

Spherical sliding isolation systems are another type of base isolation. The building is supported by bearing pads that have a curved surface and low friction. During an earthquake the building is free to slide on the bearings. Since the bearings have a curved surface, the building slides both horizontally and vertically. The forces needed to move the building upwards limits the horizontal or lateral forces which would otherwise cause building deformations. Also by adjusting the radius of the bearings curved surface, this property can be used to design bearings that also lengthen the buildings period of vibration

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