Review Category : Structural Forum

 

Structural engineers understand the significant role ductility plays in the design of structural elements to resist earthquake forces. We recognize structural systems with higher ductility perform better than less ductile systems in an earthquake. The building codes characterize different lateral force resisting systems by their ability to yield, deform, and absorb energy under load. The ductility factor, or “R” factor, is critical in determining design loads and in understanding the response a structure may go through during ground shaking.

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For centuries, engineers have come up with great new ideas and leveraged them to build stronger, better, lighter, longer, taller, and more beautiful bridges.

Throughout history, some design and procedural innovations have gone wrong, leading to serious structural problems, failures, collapses, and even deaths. Many bridges that seemed like great ideas on the drawing board and in the planning process failed during construction or soon thereafter. This article examines engineering and design concepts, and construction procedures, that led to these problems.

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The start of a career as a young engineer is a continual information overload. The facts to remember and considerations to take when making design decisions are overwhelming. Keeping up with tight deadlines leaves little extra time to spend understanding the process and building confidence in making decisions. Brand new engineers lack the basis to distinguish which design checks are necessary, which are extraneous, and how to be efficient in calculations and designs.

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The public generally takes the safety of the structures around them for granted, and for good reason. A landmark study by Robert E. Melchers in 1987 compared the annual risk of death due to a variety of activities. He found that smoking is a high-risk activity, with about 1,000 deaths/million smokers/year. Automobile travel is a moderate-risk activity, with about 210 deaths/million motorists/year. Swimming is similar, with about 175 deaths/million swimmers/year.

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A Long Overdue Wake-up Call

I have been watching, with some interest as the recent drama unfolded, the effort to block the adoption of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ ASCE 7-16 into the 2018 International Building Code (IBC). I was particularly amused to see the way that the structural engineering community has rallied in defense of a standard that they openly despise. If you get more than two structural engineers in a room, it is only a matter of time before they start complaining about the latest edition of ASCE 7 and the misery that it has brought to their practice.

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