Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Securing the Silent Sentinels of Seismic Design


While sturdy walls and reinforced frames form the backbone of earthquake-resistant structures, the battle against tremors involves more than just brute force. In the dance of seismic safety, often overlooked heroes take center stage: the non-structural elements. These seemingly innocuous fixtures and fittings, from suspended ceilings to equipment racks, can become dangerous projectiles in the throes of an earthquake. Failing to secure them can turn a tremor into a cascade of secondary damage, compromising safety and functionality.

When it comes to construction in Australia, the threat of earthquakes, though not as frequent as in other parts of the world, still demands careful consideration. To ensure the safety and stability of buildings against seismic forces, architects and engineers rely on sophisticated design principles and specialized building materials. One such system gaining prominence is Rondo, a leading provider of partition framing studs, components, suspended ceiling and wall solutions known for their innovative design and robust performance, including in earthquake-prone regions

1. Walls of Protection: Securing Partitions and Facades:

Imagine a brick wall crashing down like a domino during an earthquake. That's the chilling reality if partitions and facades aren't properly anchored and reinforced. In Australia, AS 1170.4 prescribes stringent methods for securing these non-structural elements, employing techniques like bracing anchors, seismic anchors, seismic braced walls, and connection details that ensure walls sway in unison with the building, not against it. Imagine it as weaving the facade into the very fabric of the structure, transforming it from a mere cosmetic covering into a unified line of defense.

But it's not just about brute strength. Seismic design for non-structural elements also considers flexibility and energy absorption. Think of specially designed panels that flex and bend during an earthquake, dissipating energy before it can translate into destructive forces. These "sacrificial walls," like a controlled crumple zone in a car, are designed to take the hit and safeguard the spaces beyond.

In ArchiEng, we have over 15 years of experience in working with Rondo systems. Our experience and expertises extend beyond ceilings with the innovative Steel Stud Seismic Wall System. This system utilizes flexible connections and bracing components to allow the wall to move slightly during an earthquake, preventing cracks and minimizing damage to the building structure.

Designing for seismic performance requirements in hospitals | Architecture  & Design

2. From Ceilings to Sanctuary: Taming the Overhead Threat:

Suspended ceilings might seem like innocent embellishments, but in an earthquake, they can become deadly showers of debris. That's why their seismic design is meticulous, employing strong grid systems, seismic hangers, and strategically placed seismic bracing. Imagine a network of invisible wires, woven through the ceiling like a safety net, catching and restraining any dislodged panels or components.

But there's more to it than just holding things up. Seismic design for ceilings goes beyond mere restraint, incorporating concepts like energy dissipation and controlled collapse zones. Imagine specialized ceiling tiles that crumble in a predetermined way, directing debris away from critical areas and creating safe evacuation routes. These features, meticulously engineered to protect the vulnerable spaces below, transform ceilings from decorative afterthoughts into crucial lines of defense in the seismic equation.

In ArchiEng, we adopt Rondo systems for all ceiling designs, and there are several advantages when it comes to seismic design.

  • Lightweight and flexible: Compared to traditional heavy materials like concrete, Rondo's steel and aluminum components are lighter and more flexible, allowing them to absorb and distribute vibrations during an earthquake without significant damage.
  • Strong and interconnected: Rondo systems are built with robust grid structures and secure connections, ensuring the entire system acts as a cohesive unit, minimizing the risk of individual components dislodging or collapsing.
  • Compliant with Australian standards: Rondo products are rigorously tested and comply with the stringent requirements of AS 1170.4, the Australian Standard for earthquake-resistant design. This ensures peace of mind for architects, engineers, and building owners.

Specific Rondo Solutions for Seismic Resilience

  • KEY-LOCK® Concealed Suspended Ceiling System: This award-winning system features a unique clip-on design that eliminates the need for screws or rivets, offering exceptional stability and resistance to seismic forces. The gridwork can be easily adjusted or repaired even after an earthquake.
  • DUO® Exposed Grid Ceiling System: This versatile system combines strength and aesthetics with its robust steel grid and wide range of panel options. Its inherent flexibility allows it to sway slightly during an earthquake, reducing the risk of cracking or dislodging panels.
  • DONN® Exposed Grid Ceiling System: Another reliable option, the DONN® system utilizes a traditional suspended ceiling design with robust wire hangers and seismic bracing options for added stability.
Key-lock with Gridlok furring channel GDLF bracing system

3. Taming the Tremors Within: Securing Equipment and Furniture:

Inside buildings, the silent threat continues. Unanchored equipment, from servers to medical machines, can topple over or become flying projectiles, jeopardizing functionality and lives. Seismic design tackles this challenge head-on, employing techniques like floor anchors, bracing straps, and specially designed furniture anchoring systems. Imagine these elements as gentle but firm grips, holding vital equipment in place even as the earth shudders beneath them.

But the fight against internal tremors is more than just physical restraint. It's about understanding the unique risks of each piece of equipment and designing mitigation strategies accordingly. Imagine isolating sensitive instruments from vibrations through specialized mounts or designing furniture with low centers of gravity to minimize toppling risks. These seemingly invisible interventions transform vulnerable equipment into resilient allies, ensuring critical functions remain operational even in the face of adversity.

By mastering the art of securing non-structural elements, we weave a web of resilience around the beating heart of every building. From the walls that stand firm to the ceilings that shelter, and the equipment that keeps vital functions humming, every seemingly minor detail becomes a testament to the dedication of seismic design – a silent symphony of foresight and engineering that stands watch against the tremors, safeguarding our lives and dreams, brick by non-structural brick.

RONDO excels with its building and construction products - Building  Connection

Partnerships & Expertise: Building Peace of Mind with ArchiEng

ArchiEng understands the crucial role of collaboration in achieving optimal seismic design. We provide comprehensive support, resources and certification such as Regulation 126 and Form 15 for architects, engineers, and builders, including:

  • Technical support and advice: ArchiEng's team of qualified professionals can guide you through the selection and implementation of the right seismic solutions for your project.
  • Seismic design: We have specialized software tools that help you accurately assess seismic loads and design compliant ceiling and wall systems.
  • Project-specific consultations: For complex projects, we can collaborate with your design team to develop customized seismic solutions that meet your specific needs and aesthetic requirements.

Investing in seismic design is an investment in peace of mind. It's a commitment to building structures that can withstand the tremors of nature, protecting occupants and ensuring the longevity of your valuable assets. Remember, even in the face of natural challenges, with careful planning and the right tools, we can build a future that stands tall.

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