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SEISMIC DESIGN OF CONNECTIONS IN

CONCENTRICALLY BRACED FRAMES


William A. Thornton, Ph.D., P.E.*

Introduction
The Northridge earthquake of January 1994 was the cause of an intense research
program into the behavior of moment connections. Another type of connection, which
is equally important for building lateral support, is the bracing connection. Compared
to the moment connection, there has not been very much research done for this
connection, but there is available some guidance for the design of these connections.

Concentrically Braced Frames


Figure 1 shows a variety of bracing arrangements used in buildings. The braced
frame is a vertical cantilever truss in which the building columns play the role of chords
and the braces are the truss diagonals. Figure 2 shows a typical bracing connection.
Note that this connection actually involves five connections which form the bracing
connection. These are: A, the brace to gusset connection; B, the gusset to beam
connection; C, the gusset to column connection; D, the beam to column connection; and
E, the connection of the beam to the column opposite the bracing connection.

Methods For Design


Until recently, there has not been a systematic approach to the analysis and design
of bracing connections, such as the connection shown in Figure 2. There is now
available just such a method which is based on analytical and experimental results and
not on the usual simple beam and strut formulas applied to various cut sections. The
method is called the Uniform Force Method (UFM) and has been adopted by AISC for
use in the AISC Manual (AISC, 1994).

Copyright 2001 by Cives Engineering Corporation


*President, Cives Engineering Corporation, Roswell, Georgia, USA

The admissible force distribution for this method is shown in Figures 3 and 4. The
force distribution is called admissible in the sense of the lower bound theorem of limit
analysis because it satisfies equilibrium for the free body diagrams shown in Figures 3
and 4, i.e., the gusset in Figure 3 and the beam and column and Figure 4, with absolutely
no additional forces required anywhere.
Research shows that the force resultants on the gusset edges fall within the regions
shown cross-hatched in Figure 5. Each cross-hatched region on Figure 5 contains the
resultants for six cases in which the connections of the gusset to the beam and columns
were varied from bolted to welded. It can be observed from Figures 3, 4, and 5, that the
UFM captures analytically the experimental behavior shown in Figure 5. While the
UFM is probably the most versatile method, there are several other methods in common
use. These are the Parallel Force Method, Figure 6, the Truss Analogy Method, Figure
7, and the KISS Method, Figure 8. These methods will yield safe but more conservative
(more expensive) designs than the UFM.

Seismic Requirements
For buildings in Seismic Design Category D, the American Institute of Steel
Construction (AISC, 1997) has special requirements for the design of bracing
connections. The seismic category depends on the seismic zone or ground acceleration
and the importance factor for the building. It can be determined from the local
controlling building code.
There are two kinds of concentrically braced frames for seismic designspecial and
ordinary concentrically braced frames. There are many differences in the design
requirements for these two types of frames, but the requirements for the connections are
the same except as follows: For special frames, the required strength, i.e., design load,
of the bracing connection is the lesser of the following: a) the nominal axial tensile

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strength of the bracing member, determined as RyFyAg, where Ry is an overstrength


factor, Fy is the nominal yield strength, and Ag is the gross area of the brace; and b) the
maximum force, indicated by an analysis, that can be transferred to the system.
In addition to these two, ordinary frames have a third possibility, i.e., c) the force in
the brace that results from certain load combinations.
The least of the three items, a), b), and c), is the required strength or design load,
designated by the letter P in, for instance, Figure 2. From the brace forces P in each
brace and the bracing arrangement, the transfer or drag forces A (Figure 2) can be
established. With P and A known for each bracing connection, the internal force
distribution can be determined from one of the methods previously mentioned. Figure 9
lists the limit states that must be satisfied for connection design. Figures 10, 11, and 12
show these limit states applied to the gusset, beam, and column, respectively. For a
discussion of these limit states, see AISC (1994). In addition to these limit states,
seismic loads require consideration of the following limit states:
1.

Tensile Strength: The limit states of tensile rupture on the effective net

section and block shear rupture strength must at least equal the required strength, i.e., P
as determined above. If P = RyFyAg, and the brace is bolted to the gusset, this
requirement will necessitate the use of developed fillers or extra plates welded to the
brace section to increase its net or block shear strength above its gross tensile strength.
2.

Flexural Strength: In the direction that analysis indicates the brace will

buckle, the design flexural strength of the connection must equal or exceed the expected
nominal flexural strength 1.1RyMp of the brace about the critical buckling axis. Figure
13 shows what is required when the brace is a wide flange with flange to view in
elevation. This type of brace will usually buckle in the plane of the bracing. The
moment M = 1.1RyMpy must be accommodated in the brace to gusset, gusset to beam,
gusset to column, and beam to column connections. This moment need not be

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considered simultaneously with the axial force, according to Tremblay (2001), because
of the small post buckling compressive strength of the brace. When the brace is a wide
flange web to view in elevation, it will likely buckle out of the plane of bracing. In
this case, either the gusset and all parts of the connection are designed for M =
1.1RyMpy, or the gusset is detailed to prevent this moment from developing as shown in
Figure 14. As shown in Figure 14, a yield line is allowed to form in the gusset by
keeping the brace to gusset connection at least 2t from a line about which the gusset may
bend unrestrained by the beam or column. When this option is used, the connection
shall have a buckling strength at least equal to the nominal compressive strength of the
brace. Figure 15 shows another interpretation of this yield line requirement.
3.

The design of gusset plates shall consider buckling. This is not a new

requirement (see Whitmore buckling in Figure 10), but because of cyclic loading and
with the critical Whitmore section being at the yield line in Figure 14, Astaneh (1998)
recommends using an effective length factor K = 1.2 rather than the usual value of 0.5 as
recommended by AISC (1994), which was established in static tests by Gross (1990).
Cheng (1999) shows that the K factor of 0.5, when used with the Whitmore section, is
conservative, even for the cyclic loads of seismic design.

Summary
This article points out the requirements for bracing connections in seismic regions.
These requirements are generally intended to increase the ductile response of bracing
connections by making the ductile limit states the controlling limit states by reducing the
likelihood of the brittle fracture limit states controlling the design.

References
1.

American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), 1994, Manual of Steel

Construction, LRFD, 2 nd Edition, Volumes I and II, Chicago, IL.

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2.

American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), 1997, Seismic Provisions

for Structural Steel Buildings, Chicago, IL.

3.

Astaneh-Asl, H., 1998, Seismic Behavior and Design of Gusset Plates, Steel

Tips, Structural Steel Education Council, Moraga, CA.

4.

Astaneh-Asl, H., 1989, Simple Methods for Design of Steel Gusset Plates,

Proceeding ASCE Structures Congress, ASCE, Reston, VA.

5.

Cheng, R.J.J., 1999, Recent Developments in the Behavior of Cyclically

Loaded Gusset Plates, Proceedings, AISC North American Steel Construction


Conference, Toronto, pp. 8-1 through 8-22, AISC, Chicago, IL.

6.

Gross, J.L., 1990, Experimental Study of Gusseted Connections,

Engineering Journal, Vol. 27, No. 3, AISC, Chicago, IL.]

7.

Lundeen, T.R., Design and Detailing of Seismic Connections for Braced

Frame Structures, North American Steel Construction Conference Proceedings, AISC,


Chicago, IL.

8.

Richard, R.M., 1986, Analysis of Large Bracing Connection Designs for

Heavy Construction, National Steel Construction Conference, AISC, Chicago, IL.

9.

Thornton, W.A., 1991, On the Analysis and Design of Bracing

Connections, National Steel Construction Conference Proceedings, AISC, Chicago, IL.

10. Tremblay, Robert, 2001, Seismic Behavior and Design of Concentrically


Braced Steel Framed, Engineering Journal, Vol. 38, No. 3, AISC, Chicago, IL.

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11. Whitmore, R.E., 1952, Experimental Investigation of Stresses in Gusset


Plates, University of Tennessee Engineering Experimental Station Bulletin 16,
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN.

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