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building science

SKC Varthi K and DR DK Paul

Architects role
in buildings seismic
Enhancement of the seismic performance of a building
should be the priority of the architect as well as the client.
Common irregularities brought in to entertain unnecessary
area encroachment should be avoided

building is a combination of art and science, which are put
together to function as a living structure. The increasing
complexity of integrity ensures simpler functioning of the
building. Therefore, building science is an unending process,
which achieves its perfection at infinity. There is no end to the
possibilities for improvement.
Building construction is a complex phenomenon involving many param-
eters and factors, such as planning, designing, construction, management,
logistics and budgeting. Therefore, it clearly requires expertise from various
fields and brainstorming by many specialists, professionals and technicians,
including architects, civil engineers, project managers, contractors and various
other authorities who contribute in sequential or parallel processes involved in
construction. They work together to produce a design, which is simple, sustain-
able in functioning, aesthetically pleasing and structurally strong. Therefore,
the three most important aspects of building design are: (i) Function (ii) Form
and (iii) Strength.
American architect, Louis Sullivan, referred to as the father of modernism
and skyscrapers, stated in one of his poems, that the form follows function. This
statement is now a doctrine for modern architects. Here, function refers to the
usage of the building and form refers to its overall geometry, composed in an
aesthetically pleasing manner in keeping with the requirements of the user or
intended functions.

36 ARCHITECTURE - Time Space & People August 2014

The practicality of a structure is building structure. At the appropriate usage of a single building for multiple
more important than the aesthetics. stages, he brings in the civil engineers, purposes is yet not acknowledged in
This could not be more significant in project managers, contractors, other the Indian codes, giving rise to the
todays world where the natural and specialists and technicians to work issues of strength and durability. In
anthropogenic catastrophes have on and produce a living space. It is a seismically active area, this issue is
hit the world in the form of deadly the architects duty to look after the further aggravated.
disasters. These disasters, such as purpose of the building, area require-
earthquakes that severely damage ments, accessibility, ventilation and Indian Scenario
buildings, prove fatal to life. However, associated configuration, and so on. In India, earthquakes are still viewed
the truth remains that it is not the He creatively configures the structural as rare events that occur once in a 100
disasters that are responsible for the and non-structural components in a years. In the face of such a conception,
loss of lives, but the buildings that manner that ensures the durability of the client is unwilling to allocate a sig-
are incapable of withstanding these the building in times of disasters, and nificant part of the budget on seismic
disasters. Loss life can be drastically also gives it a unique appearance. strength, preferring to spend instead
reduced by ensuring that the struc- The role of a civil engineer is to on architectural form, which costs
tures of buildings are strong enough give enough strength to his ideas less and gives more habitable space.
to bear the impact of earthquakes. and look after endurance and seismic As a result, more habitable space in
Let us now look at the importance strength of the structural members. lesser area and superficial beautifica-
of building performance, with respect For achieving a high degree of func- tion becomes the focus of building
to architectural form and functional tional perfection, the plans may need design. The common configuration
usage. The meaning of function may to be relooked at and improvised problems, mostly seen in the conven-
vary on the basis of the context, several times by the architect and the tional construction system in India are
person(s) and area. A country like engineer. In this process, the building as follows:
India, ranking second in the world risks a trade off between architectural
in terms of population, is extremely form and structural strength. The 1. Soft Storey and
susceptible to disasters. The weak architect, personally, gives more im- Weak Storey
technological advancement in its portance to the functional use of the The soft storey problem is the exis-
building industry, is yet another issue. building. However, he has to go with tence of a building floor that possess-
In such a scenario, defining function the clients wish to design the most es 70% lesser lateral stiffness than the
can be quite a challenge! appealing form. At the same time, immediate superior floor or 80% lesser
Ideally, buildings should be he has to create maximum habitable average stiffness of the three floors
designed to serve different purposes. space out of the limited area at hand. above (Refer Figure 1).
They should be: The clients demand for innovative The weak storey problem is the
Structurally strong designs forces the architect to go for existence of a building floor that pos-
Practical unconventional, asymmetrical and sesses 80% lesser lateral strength than
Suitable for use new creative building forms. Unfortu- the immediate superior floor.
Aesthetically pleasing nately, the Indian building regulations These deformities are found in
It is up to the architect to take up and codes do not acknowledge such places, where more space with large
the challenge of designing a build- forms. These codes recognize build- span (without structural obstruction),
ing, which will not only serve all these ings with a regular square or rectan- is required, for example, parking
purposes but also conform to building gular plan, symmetrical in horizontal lots, large assemble areas, shopping
regulations, codes and budgets. The and vertical planes, with little liberty complexes and display areas with
architect is solely responsible if the for innovation. Thus, in India, the large openings. These result from little
building is not fit for the functional building designs are supposed to be consideration given to the strength of
usage. He is also responsible for the very limited and rigid according to building with an intention of having
form derived from the function of the these regulations and codes. Also, the maximum area to be occupied for use.

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building science

This issue can be solved through Designing the problem causing

simple design intervention. A little building elements at the center or near
consciousness regarding lateral the center of mass, without lining with
strength and stiffness, and uniform the perimeter or providing uniform
load distribution to structural mem- strength and stiffness to the perimeter,
bers, in both horizontal and vertical can be an easy solution. There can be
planes, would be enough to remove many other solutions possible, which
such atrocities from new building may remove or at least decrease the
designs. For the existing build- problem to a manageable extent in the
ings, there are several solutions to early stages of design.
choose from, for example, the use
Fig. 1: Building with ground floor soft storey of additional columns, buttresses, 3. Re-entrant Corners
shear wall or bracing (Refer figures The buildings with shapes like L, T
2 to 5). and H or a combination of these tend
to produce differential motions be-
2. Variation in Perimeter tween different wings of the building,
Strength and Stiffness for the same earthquake force. This
The issue of seismic strength results in differential concentration of
arises when there is wide variation stress and torsion in different wings,
Fig. 2: Addition of shear wall to existing
in strength and stiffness of the making them vulnerable to breakage
soft storey
building perimeter. The building (Refer figures 7 and 8). Of course, this
may appear to be geometrically effect may depend on a number of
regular, but the design and factors like:
planning of building elements Characteristics of ground motion
like elevators and staircases along Mass of building
one side of the perimeter makes Type of structural system
it seismically irregular. The center Length of the wing and
Fig. 3: Addition of extra columns to existing of mass shifts due to the extra aspect ratio
soft storey elements and makes the structure Height of wing and height/
vulnerable to damage (Figure 6). depth ratio

Fig. 4: Addition of bracing to existing

soft storey

Fig. 5: Addition of external buttress to

existing soft storey Fig. 6: Showing unbalanced front side of perimeter

38 ARCHITECTURE - Time Space & People August 2014

building on slopes are a few of them. avoided, or at least minimized up to a
Location of other building elements, manageable extent where they cause
such as a staircase, beam, slab or no harm to life or property. It is the
girder framed at different heights of sole responsibility of the architect to
columns by splitting them, can also be act wisely and understand the need
possible reasons for the same. of structural congruity along with the
Consideration of this issue during architectural form of the building.
Fig. 7: Showing different plan forms designing of the building plan can The architects knowledge and
susceptible to form re-entrant corners help eliminate the problem. For the understanding of zoning regulations,
location of building elements placed building by-laws and seismic codes,
at different heights of the columns, a put together, not only improve the
new structural member or a wall can building design in the present but also
be erected in order to take the load save lives from being harmed in the
of those elements. This would help in event of some disaster in the future.
delimiting the issue of short column While it is crucial for the architect
or captive column in the structure. to intimate the client about these
What we have mentioned till essentials to secure the building, it
now are few commonly found is also important for Indian investors
Fig. 8: Torsion being created in different configuration irregularities in building to understand the significance of the
wings of the building structures. By considering these seismic strength of the structures,
small issues during the planning and as earthquakes are no longer rare.
Two strategies can help solve this designing process, one can eliminate Seismic resistivity should be the
issue: these problems from the root itself. priority of the client, the architect
i) Structurally separating the build- The architect plays an important role and the engineers. The design of
ing into simpler shapes by giving in this decision-making process. These the building should be processed
joints conflicting configurations can be keeping in mind the seismic zone in
ii) Tying the building together so which the site is located. The codes
strongly as to stand the earth- should be followed strictly. There is
Free movement of only a small portion
quake forces also a need to improvise the Indian
building codes with respect to the
4. Captive Column and architectural needs and demands. The
Short column provision of different forms should
This is the case when a structural be included and the present codes
column is lined by a structural or should be made more flexible so as
non-structural member, only up to a to allow the liberty to use different
specific height. This makes the single architectural forms. Efforts should
structural member (column) behave Fig. 9: Short column effect and failure be made to strengthen the different
as two distinct members and alter its architectural forms rather than
envisioned performance. The column prohibit their creation.
is weaker at the open junction and The other facts leading to
tends to deform easily under earth- improper design and construction
quake loads. There can be various methodology can be the project
reasons for this configuration problem budget, lack of contact between
(Refer figures 9 and 10), such as provi- architect and structural engineer
sion of ventilation in basements, open and lack of synchronization between
corridors in building complexes, and Fig. 10: Damaged short column different professionals. These minor

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building science

bugs at the initial stages do not show chitectural configuration plays a major 3. Charleson, Andrew. Seismic design
effects at the time of construction. role in deciding the seismic strength for Architects: Outwitting the Quake,
The adverse effects of these are and functional congruity of a build- 2008.
observable only when disaster strikes, ing. The architect should shoulder 4. Arnold, C and R.K Reitherman.
damaging the building and making the responsibility of ensuring proper Building Configuration and Seismic
this damage responsible for loss seismic performance of the building Design, NY 1982.
of lives. since inception. 5. Arnold, C. Architectural Aspects of
The clients should understand Seismic Resistant Design, Eleventh
Lessons to be learnt the importance of disaster mitigation World Conference on Earthquake
Building by-laws can be easily rather than management. The build- Engineering, Elsevier Science Ltd.,
trespassed to create irregular ing should be created/ built to with- 1996.
configurations. Laws are broken and stand earthquake forces rather than 6. Bachmann, Hugo. Seismic
plans are sent off-limits only when to retrofit after its completion. The Conceptual Design of Buildings,
there is pressure from the client project budget should be distributed Basic Principles for Engineers,
to create more livable space in the wisely with the major share going into Architects, Building Owners and
limited area available. Buildings so structural strength. Authorities, 2003.
created, are unable to withstand Improving the collaboration and 7. Murty, C. V. R. Earthquake
earthquakes leaving a number communication between the archi- Behavior of Buildings, GSDMA,
of lessons to be learnt for the tect, urban planning and government September 2012.
professionals as well as the clients. authorities, and earthquake engineer- 8. FEMA232, Homebuilders Guide to
However, the post-earthquake reports, ing disciplines (seismology, structural Earthquake Resistant Design and
including the detailed documentation engineering, lifelines engineering and Construction, Building Seismic
of the building damages are rarely emergency response) can greatly help Safety Council, June 2006.
created with cognition. The reports are in reducing the seismic vulnerability 9. IS 1893-2002, Criteria For
mere substantiation or a visual survey of buildings. Earthquake Resistant Design Of
of the damages. Proper validation Structures, BIS, Delhi.
of the details and comparison with Acknowledgments 10. Report of State Seismic Safety
the other existing buildings is rarely I would like to express my sincere grat- Commission, Architectural practice
done in our country. In many foreign itude and heartiest thanks to Dr. D.K. and earthquake hazards, State of
countries, post-earthquake lessons are PAUL, Emeritus Fellow, Department California,1991.
important documents for the future of Earthquake Engineering, Indian 11. Paul, D K. Earthquake Risk
studies and amendments in existing Institute of Technology Roorkee, who Mitigation, SAARC International
codes. The damaged structures are provided me invaluable guidance and Training course, 2011.
carefully studied with advanced assistance in research work which
software for earthquake forces and materialized in this article. I would
analyzed for further assessments. The also like to thank Ar. Sonam Sahu for
results are further utilized for future her constant support and unbreakable
cases and it is ensured that the errors patience in guiding me.
and discrepancies are not repeated.
The professionals in India also References: S.K.C. Varthi K, M.Tech Scholar,
CoEDMM, Indian Institute of Technology,
need to learn from these examples 1. Arnold, C.Building Configuration Roorkee.
and work efficiently to produce a bet- the Architecture Of Seismic Design, Dr. D.K. Paul, Emeritus Fellow,
ter end-product. May 1983. Department of Earthquake Engineering,
Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee.
2. FEMA 454, Designing for
Photographs and illustrations:
Conclusion Earthquakes, A Manual for Courtesy the Authors.
To sum up, we should realize that ar- Architects, August 2013.

40 ARCHITECTURE - Time Space & People August 2014

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