Shaking Things Up in a Seismic Design Competition

Published: May 10, 2017 By

The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) is an international technical society of professionals including engineers, geoscientists, architects, planners, public officials and social scientists. For the past four years, CU Boulder’s EERI chapter has participated in the Undergraduate Seismic Design Competition, part of the EERI Annual Meeting, held in various cities across the United States.

This year’s competition was held in Portland, Oregon, on March 7-10. With our membership the highest it has ever been, consisting of both engineering and environmental design students, this team had a lot of enthusiasm and determination, and our performance at the competition was better than ever!  

 Melanie Traylor, Julie Hardy, Steven Lorence and Cody Candler. Team member Aisling Pigot places a gusset plate to protect the structure during shaking. A computer-generated rendering of the team's building. The finished balsa wood building.

The Seismic Design Competition gives undergraduate students the chance to compete in the design and construction of balsa wood structures to withstand three different earthquake-induced ground motions via shake table. Each team is judged on its ability to optimize structural efficiency, demonstrate positive economic benefits and design a functional and architecturally aesthetic skyscraper capable of resisting seismic loads.

For the seismic design team, travelling to the annual meeting affords an unparalleled opportunity to gain exposure to earthquake engineering and meet leaders in the field. The seismic design team was able to put their hard work to the test during the competition, while testing the finished product allows students to understand the value of the education and their contribution to all those living in areas with seismic potential.

The CU team’s structure, The Perennial, stems from one of the city of Portland’s nicknames, “The City of Roses.” The lower hexagonal floors of The Perennial rotate to give it an iconic shape, while the upper floors grow to maximize the rectangular footprint of the building. The building features flying buttresses around the bottom perimeters to increase both lateral and torsional rigidity.

The team’s dedication was impressive, and I was also extremely impressed with the high quality of their work. In order to finish the building on time, the team held two build sessions per day for about four weeks and often worked on construction up to six hours per day on top of their assignments for classes. Every single member worked so hard to get this finished on time, whether it be on design, construction, laser cutting, modeling, rendering or economical and structural analysis. I’m so proud of them. I can see every one of their personalities when I look at the finished product, and I think that’s so cool. What a fun group of people to get to know through this exciting process!

Our team ended up doing very well in the architecture category (5th) and pretty well in communication (16th), but unfortunately we didn't end up ranking very well overall. This was because our structure was 0.03 lb overweight, so it was automatically counted as a "collapsed structure." Without this setback, we calculate that CU would have placed in the top 10 teams.

“This is a huge improvement from our performance at past competitions,” said team captain Ryan White. “This is the first year that our structure didn’t collapse during the third ground motion, and we had no construction-related deductions. We built a stronger, higher-quality skyscraper, and overall, our performance improved. That’s all we can ask for. Of course there’s still room for improvement, and of course we intend to improve!”

Rebecca Scheetz is an MS student in geotechnical engineering and president of CU's Earthquake Engineering Research Institute.

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