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Published by: raj_ferrari on Apr 29, 2010
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 Why are Short Columns more Damaged During Earthquakes?
Earthquake Tip 
LearningEarthquake DesignandConstruction
Which Columns are short?
During past earthquakes, reinforced concrete (RC)frame buildings that have columns of different heightswithin one storey, suffered more damage in theshorter columns as compared to taller columns in thesame storey. Two examples of buildings with shortcolumns are shown in Figure 1 – buildings on asloping ground and buildings with a mezzanine floor.Poor behaviour of short columns is due to the factthat in an earthquake, a tall column and a shortcolumn of same cross-section move horizontally bysame amount
(Figure 2). However, the short columnis stiffer as compared to the tall column, and it attractslarger earthquake force. Stiffness of a column meansresistance to deformation – the larger is the stiffness,larger is the force required to deform it. If a shortcolumn is not adequately designed for such a largeforce, it can suffer significant damage during anearthquake. This behaviour is called
Short ColumnEffect
. The damage in these short columns is often inthe form of X-shaped cracking – this type of damage ofcolumns is due to
shear failure
IITK-BMTPC Earthquake Tip 19
The Short Column Behaviour
Many situations with short column effect arise inbuildings. When a building is rested on sloped ground(Figure 1a), during earthquake shaking all columnsmove horizontally by the same amount along with thefloor slab at a particular level (this is called
rigid floor diaphragm action
; see
IITK-BMTPC Earthquake Tip 17 
Ifshort and tall columns exist within the same storeylevel, then the short columns attract several timeslarger earthquake force and suffer more damage ascompared to taller ones.The short column effect also occurs in columnsthat support mezzanine floors or loft slabs that areadded in between two regular floors (Figures 1b).There is another special situation in buildingswhen short-column effect occurs. Consider a wall(
) of partial height built to fit a windowover the remaining height. The adjacent columnsbehave as short columns due to presence of thesewalls. In many cases, other columns in the same storeyare of regular height, as there are no walls adjoiningthem. When the floor slab moves horizontally duringan earthquake, the upper ends of these columnsundergo the same displacement (Figure 3). However,the stiff walls restrict horizontal movement of thelower portion of a short column, and it deforms by thefull amount over
the short height
adjacent to thewindow opening. On the other hand, regular columnsdeform over the
 full height
. Since the effective heightover which a short column can freely bend is small, itoffers more resistance to horizontal motion andthereby attracts a larger force as compared to theregular column. As a result, short column sustainsmore damage. Figure 4 shows X-cracking in a columnadjacent to the walls of partial height.
Figure 2: Short columns are stiffer and attractlarger forces during earthquakes
 – this must be accounted for in design.
Short Column:
 Attracts larger horizontal force
 Tall Column:
 Attracts smaller horizontal force
Regular Column
Partial Height Wall 
Short column
   L  o  n  g   S   h  o  r   t
Figure 1: Buildings with short columns
 – twoexplicit examples of common occurrences.
Regular ColumnShort Column
Tall Column
Sloped Ground 
(b)(a)Figure 3:
Short columns effect 
in RC buildingswhen partial height walls adjoin columns
 –the effect is implicit here because infill wallsare often treated as non-structural elements.
Portion of columnrestrained frommoving 

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