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CODE SIMPLE: ASCE 7-05 Table 12.

2-1 Bearing Wall

System vs. Building Frame System /article/4940/code_simple__asce_7_05_table_12.2_1_bearing_wall_system_vs._building_fr
February 2007 Columns
The 2005 edition of the American Society of Civil Engineers Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and
Other Structures (ASCE 7-05) Section 11.2 defines "bearing wall system" and "building frame system" .
S. K. Ghosh, Ph.D., and Susan Dowty, S.E.
The 2005 edition of the American Society of Civil Engineers Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and
Other Structures (ASCE 7-05) Section 11.2 defines "bearing wall system" and "building frame system" as
Wall system: Bearing: A structural system with bearing walls providing support for all or major portions of
the vertical loads. Shear walls or braced frames provide seismic-force resistance.
Frame structural system: Building frame system: A structural system with an essentially complete space
frame providing support for vertical loads. Seismic-force resistance is provided by shear walls or braced
The R-value assigned to "building frame systems" is greater than the R-value assigned to corresponding
"bearing walls systems," which makes the "building frame system" more desirable from a cost-efficient
design perspective. Two questions are frequently asked by design firms: Can the gravity framing be
integral with the lateral force-resisting shear walls? And, if some of the gravity loads are resisted by shear
walls, can the structural system still be classified as a building frame system? These questions have been
addressed in the past by two sources: Recommended Lateral Force Requirements Commentary
published by the Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAOC) in 1999, and the National
Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Recommended Provisions Part 2: Commentary
published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2003.
SEAOCAs stated in C407.1.1 UBC 1921.6 and 1629.6.2-3 Structural System Type and R for
Concrete Wall Buildings, concrete shear walls are employed in bearing wall systems (R=4.5) and in
building frame systems (R=5.5). To see if the structure qualifies as a building frame system, with the
higher R, apply the following test:
Assume that all portions of the walls that are not reinforced as columns or beams are removed, but that the
self-weight of these wall portions is still present. If the remaining structure is capable of supporting the
factored gravity loads and conforms to the detailing requirements for gravity frame members, then the
structure qualifies as a building frame system.
It is not required that walls be physically separate from the building frame system. Building frame columns
can, for example, be integral with a wall, forming boundary elements.
The distinction between the two different concrete wall systems and the two values for R is based on
traditional practice and is not necessarily justified by technical principles or research results. The

assumption of a building frame system may require the design to include elementssuch as beams at
each intersection of walls and floor slabs, or confined columns within the wall lengththat, in some cases,
are of no benefit to seismic performance.
NEHRPOn page 44 of the NEHRP document, it states: "A building frame system is a system in which
the gravity loads are carried primarily by a frame supported on columns rather than by bearing walls.
Some minor portions of the gravity load may be carried on bearing walls, but the amount so carried should
not represent more than a few percent of the building area."
Answers to FAQs
Q: Lately, there are several proposed high-rise concrete shear wall buildings in our jurisdiction with
integral concrete columns and beams (within the shear wall) taking vertical floor loads. These buildings are
for residential apartment and condominium uses. The buildings use flat post-tensioned slabs for floors.
Design engineers would like to treat these buildings as building frame systems, utilizing an R factor of 6.0
in accordance with ASCE 7-05 Table 12.2-1, Item B. 5.
The SEAOC Commentary, although not written for the 2006 IBC, appears to support treating these
buildings as building frame systems with R=6.0, provided the vertical floor loads are taken by columns and
beams integrally built within the shear wall. However, intuitively we feel that any damage to the shear wall
will also negatively impact the performance of the beams and columns within the shear wall. Therefore, we
feel more comfortable that such buildings be treated as a bearing wall system utilizing an R factor of 5 in
accordance with ASCE 7-05 Table 12.2-1, Item A.1. What is your opinion?
A: This issue has come up many times in the past. There are basically two key points made in the SEAOC
Commentary. First, the gravity loads must include the weights of those portions of shear walls that have
been rendered ineffective, simply because they physically exist and would contribute to the gravity loads.
Second, all portions of the walls that are reinforced as columns and beams must comply with the special
seismic-detailing requirements of the code. Gravity frame members must maintain their full-factored,
gravity-load-carrying capacity under the design earthquake of the lateral-force-resisting system. If the
webs of the shear walls would be so badly damaged in an earthquake as to be rendered ineffective, there
should still be one or more load paths taking the gravity loads down to the soils underlying the foundation.
Proper reinforcement detailing for the beams and the columns is key. Detailing requirements for gravity
frame members of reinforced concrete are provided in Section 21.11 of ACI 318-05. You may find it easier
to conform to Section 21.11.3 than to justify that you need only comply with 21.11.2.
Q: We have an 18-story tower project where approximately 46 percent of the tributary gravity slab load is
carried by the bearing walls. We would like to classify our structure as a building frame system; however,
the 2003 NEHRP Commentary does not support this classification. Can you please provide some
A: We disagree with the notion of "a few percent" in the 2003 NEHRP Commentary. The two requirements
of a building frame system are that there is an essentially complete space frame carrying substantially all
the gravity loads, and that there be shear walls carrying 100 percent of the lateral loads. Also, we have
already established that the gravity frame members can be integral with the shear walls. We do not believe
the definition requires that the shear walls carry only a few percent of the gravity loads.
S.K. Ghosh Associates, Inc., is a structural, seismic, and code consulting firm located in Palatine, Ill., and
Laguna Niguel, Calif. President S.K. Ghosh, Ph.D., and Susan Dowty, S.E., are active in the development
and interpretation of national structural code provisions. They can be contacted at and, respectively.