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Seismic Performance of Non-Structural Elements

A recent ceiling job and racking job we have done seismic design for, showing the possible scale of installations.

With so much focus on seismic performance of structures and their contents nowadays, we at BVT are committed to staying at the forefront of knowledge in one of our primary areas of expertise, namely, seismic performance of non-structural building elements. This is why my colleague Max Waters and I enrolled at the University of Canterbury for a course on exactly this topic. Although our organisational knowledge in the field has come a long way since we started in this line of work, there is always room for improvement.

As part of the foundational component of the course we looked at the structural engineering approach to dynamics to account for seismic loading. Coming from a mechanical engineering background it has been interesting to see how large a role it plays in the analysis and design of building structures. As with any field of engineering, it is clear that it is very easy to fall down rabbit holes along the way towards solving a practical problem, with many parameters to consider when analysing the dynamic response of a building structure. Not to mention when you have to use that response to analyse the response of the non-structural elements due to seismic actions. However, knowing the theory will help us cut to the core of solving our clients’ problems.

With the course having originated in the United States, the fundamentals are mostly based on the US standards and codes of practice, but a comparison is made between the seismic demand as calculated by the US standards and NZ standards. This highlighted that the NZ standards are quite a bit more conservative than the US standard. This is not surprising given the relatively active seismic region New Zealand straddles. However, the point was made that many factors are highly influenced by politics and lobbying by industry associations. Personally, I am happy that the NZ codes are on the more conservative side.

With the knowledge and experience gained from this course, we will be able to raise the bar in many of our core business areas, including suspended ceilings, non-structural partition walls, and steel storage racking. The course also covered seismic performance of vibration isolated mechanical equipment, and pressurised fire suppression sprinkler piping systems, which will give us an even broader base for our work in design of seismic restraint systems for a range of equipment and installations. All-in-all, this was a very exciting course for us and we are looking forward to using our deeper understanding of seismic performance of non-structural building elements to help solve our clients’ problems even better and quicker.