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Projects : NEES Cityblock

Soil-Structure Interaction on the Scale of a City Block

Seismic Performance Assessment in Dense Urban Environments


This award is an outcome of the NSF 08-519 program solicitation “George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) Research (NEESR)” competition and includes the University of California, Berkeley (lead institution), University of Buffalo-SUNY, University of California, Davis, University of California, San Diego (subaward), California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and the Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering. This project will utilize the NEES equipment site at the University of California, Davis (the UC Davis Geotechnical Centrifuge Facility).

In our cities, buildings are constructed in clusters (the city block). Ideally, they should be designed to resist earthquake forces as clusters of buildings, because the response of one building can affect the response of neighboring buildings. However, the interactions between densely spaced buildings are not captured in current design practice, because buildings are typically designed as isolated structures. Soil-structure interaction (SSI) effects on closely spaced low- and medium-rise buildings are poorly understood. For example, it is not clear how basements of different sizes affect how the ground shakes these buildings. Recent earthquakes have damaged groups of buildings in cities, but it is difficult to learn from these observations due to the lack of documentation of the ground motion and building performance. However, a comprehensive program of realistic scaled centrifuge experiments, where the input motion, ground conditions, ground response, and structural response can be carefully tracked, followed by back-analyses of these model tests, can be employed to enhance the profession’s understanding of SSI effects of buildings in a dense urban environment.

This project will advance fundamental science and knowledge in engineering with substantial intellectual benefits to both geotechnical and structural engineering disciplines. Both disciplines will contribute to and benefit from the development and deployment of an integrated performance-based seismic design and a robust loss-estimation methodology. The project will also train Ph.D. students, bring in undergraduate students from a teaching university, engage under-represented students, impact building code development and performance-based seismic design, and outreach to a broad spectrum of end-users by emphasizing web-accessed media. We will also translate the challenge of solving this realistic problem to undergraduates (and others) via a “Shaking of a City Block” shaking table competition to have students consider the effects of adjacent structures and soil on seismic performance. Data from this project will be made available through the NEES data repository (

QUICK REPORT: Project Update - February 7, 2013 [download]

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last updated 06.05.14