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Will the condo walls come tumbling down during fake quake?

By / July 6, 2009

Technicians and researchers install a six-story wooden "condo" onto a shaking table in Miki City, Japan. The goal is to test wood-frame construction techniques that would allow builders to erect taller wood-frame buildings in quake-prone regions.

John van de Lindt, Colorado State University

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You've just gotta love the toys earthquake engineers get to play with.

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Yes, it's serious business to design buildings to withstand major temblors. But to be able to stand there and flip the switch that sets a 65-foot by 49-foot platform to shaking with a million-pound structure on it? Priceless.

Engineers have devised lots of ways to make concrete and steel-framed structures more quake-resistant. But if they could do the same for tall wood-frame buildings, that might give builders an opportunity to erect naturally-flexing, safer, less expensive structures that can meet urban-housing needs -- and with renewable building materials.

So researches at Colorado State University are leading a university-industry team that has built a seven-story "condo" and plan to shake the daylights out of it on a huge shaking table in Japan. The goal is to simulate a magnitude 6.7 quake and see how the building holds up.

The team has subjected the structure to smaller simulated quakes. But the big test comes July 14. The National Science Foundation, which has ponied up $1.4 million for the project, is scheduled to webcast the results at 11 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on the 14th. The web address to use at that time: www.science360.gov/live.

Update on July 8, 2009

Here's a video made during an early test of the structure.

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