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Car design has lessons for seismic engineering

ENGINEERS SHOULD follow some of the principles of car design when faced with the challenge of designing earthquake-proof buildings, according to a seismology professor.

Speaking at the ICE's 7th Mallet-Milne Lecture, 'The road to earthquake safety', Cinna Lomnitz, professor of seismology at the National University of Mexico, said: 'Inexpensive safe structures exist today: they are called automobiles.'

Cars, he said, could withstand several Gs of acceleration due to superior design and damping from shock absorbers.

Lomnitz explained that 'trains' of earthquake waves could create a coupled mode of vibration which propagated in plane strains along the interfaces between the layers of soft saturated mud and layers of firm soil.

Large amounts of reliable damping could be essential to suppress earthquake- induced resonant vibration in buildings, which often resulted in damage or collapse. This was shown in the devastating Mexico City earthquake in 1985 where many tall buildings collapsed as they resonated with the long ground motions of the city's soft soils.

Hi-tech solutions, including damping systems, were now being developed, Lomnitz said. The design of a 120 storey building in Mexico City incorporated large fluid viscous shock absorbers originally developed for US nuclear submarines.

Lomnitz addeded that there was a saying in seismic engineering that earthquakes were not natural disasters, but man-made disasters caused by natural phenomena. 'We should strive for a future in which people will seek shelter in the next building in case of an earthquake.'

Kvaerner Cementation Foundations, Mott MacDonald and London Underground have won a special award for partnering on the Wimbledon Park embankment stabilisation project in London. ICE president Roger Sainsbury presented the London Association's merit award to (above left to right) Darren Russell of MM, Mike Spong of KCF and Phil Moat of LUL.

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