Building Smart: Fitout Engineering Meets Earthquake-Resistance


Beyond the dazzling aesthetics and sleek finishes, lies the hidden hero of every exceptional fitout – seismic design. In earthquake-prone regions like Australia, ensuring your workspace doesn't just look good, but stands strong, is paramount. This is where fitout engineering and AS1170.4 come into play, forming a powerful alliance to protect your employees, assets, and peace of mind. In the face of a seismic event, the performance of buildings and their elements may significantly impact the level of risk posed to building occupants, both directly and indirectly.

National Construction Code requires all buildings to comply with AS 1170.4-2007: Structural Design Actions Part 4: Earthquake Actions in Australia. This requires earthquake loads on both structural and non-structural parts and components to be considered in the design of all buildings in Australia. In our understanding, engineers, architects, designers, building certifiers, manufacturers, installers and builders all share responsibility to comply with the seismic design.

Here is where our engineering capability of seismic design and top-tier fit-out engineering becomes your assurance of safety, structural integrity and compliance. Whether you are looking to embark on a new building project or renovate an existing structure, we are here to make sure your building is resilient enough to withstand any seismic events. Our seasoned team of structural engineers ensures your building’s resilience by issuing Regulation 126 and Form 15 certifying compliance of the design with relevant Australian Standards.

Rondo ArchiEng Seismic brace design DUO DONN suspended ceiling system

What is Fit-Out Engineering and Seismic Design?

In essence, fit-out engineering can be compared to the interior design of buildings. Its primary focus is on ensuring that internal non-structural elements, encompassing walls, parapets, gables, chimneys, ceilings, flooring, lighting fixtures, partitions, dividers, doors, windows, HVAC and ventilation systems, built-in furniture, and other associated features, exhibit not just visual aesthetics but are also engineered to withstand diverse loads, including seismic forces. The emphasis is on functionality and optimization for their intended purposes.

Seismic design is a branch of structural engineering that focuses on designing structures to resist the forces generated by earthquakes.

The primary goal of seismic design is to ensure the safety and stability of buildings to the requisite standard during seismic events.

Unlike other structural analyses, where loads are applied to structures, the seismic design is different. For seismic calculations, acceleration is applied to boundary conditions of the structure or elements and then we assess forces in the structure resulting from this acceleration.

While Australia sits on its own tectonic plate, it is not immune from earthquakes, therefore, it is essential for buildings to be designed accordingly. Earthquakes in this country have been known to reach 6.6 on the Richter scale and in 2018, there were 13 earthquakes in Australia alone. The possibility of future earthquakes makes it essential that new construction utilises seismic design and construction

Fit-out engineering, coupled with seismic engineered design, ensures the safety of its occupants whether they are working inside or visiting.

Seismic movement - history

For a long time, people have suffered the impact of earthquakes due in part to our lack of understanding of these events. Their magnitude and unpredictability make them an incredibly difficult scenario to deal with. But while the events themselves may be unavoidable, nowadays the damage caused need not always be so extreme. As research and skills have developed in recent decades, so too has the capacity for buildings to be designed to withstand more violent movement. Whilst specific design requirements for seismic events have long been stipulated in building codes, there has not always been sufficient awareness or understanding for measures to be adequately implemented. If there is any upside at all of catastrophic events it tends to be the vast leaps forward in preparedness for future occurrences. Good building practice requires the collaborations of not only the architect and engineer, but many other design professionals. Even the best calculations cannot compensate for faults during the conceptual seismic design stage. Therefore it is important for architects and engineers to collaborate closely as early as possible.

ceiling collapsed from seismic events

Assessing Seismic Risks

The primary concern when it comes to structural design for earthquakes is the lateral force-resisting system of the building. In most cases, this involves roof and floor diaphragms for horizontal distribution, as well as shear walls and rigid frames for vertical bracing. Failure of these elements can result in major damage, including the possibility of total collapse.

Nobody argues that a building must remain structurally stable, post an earthquake event, however there is significant information available that suggests the most significant cost attributable to an earthquake stem from the fit-out and services installed within the building. Since the different parts and materials within the building move differently under the actions of an earthquake, the connection and interaction points between them are crucial. It is necessary to allow independent movement between abutting parts within a building, thus reducing the possibility of impact or disturbance.

Naturally, the risk posed to any given structure depends on a number of factors such as its location– both in relation to tectonic movement and its proximity to cliffs, riverbanks and the like, as well as the integrity of the ground beneath. Similarly, the amount of people affected by its failure and its importance in functioning after an earthquake – a hospital, for instance – must also be taken into account.

For those in the industry, especially those working on large publically funded projects, it is important to be well-versed in seismic design and remain up to date with new developments. The bottom line is that when it comes to seismic design, the architectural stakes are higher. If buildings that call for seismic requirements are not properly equipped, it could result in substantial injury or loss of life. Seismic designs aim to place the utmost importance on occupant safety. Even if human tragedy is avoided however, the cost to repair and rebuild whole areas is significant. The buildings of Christchurch, for example, has climbed to an estimated $40 billion dollar price tag.

Knauf AU's DONN® DX® Seismic Grid system for Sale Lane, Auckland

The Importance of Seismic Engineering in Fit-Out Projects

The failure of non-structural elements can endanger occupants, disrupt evacuation routes, and jeopardize the structural integrity of a building, leading to substantial repair expenses and decreased productivity.

The dual task of fit-out design is to make sure all plumbing, lighting, flooring and partitions are in their correct places and make sure they are secured properly to withstand design loads including seismic. Plus, the interior has to look as intended by an architect with no adverse effect on the safety of occupants.

Hence, each component of a fit-out project must be designed to minimize the risk of structural damage and ensure the safety of occupants. To achieve this objective, specialized techniques are employed that bring strength where needed.

In the context of secondary structures, seismic hazards may not necessarily involve the structure collapsing but rather the potential obstruction of building egress during emergency evacuations. Timely evacuation is important, with the overall design and engineering dedicated to preventing building collapse and providing occupants ample time to exit safely.

At the heart of it all, the importance of seismic engineering in fit-out projects lies in its commitment to enhancing safety without compromising functionality. It’s about creating spaces that not only meet aesthetic expectations but also withstand the unpredictable challenges of seismic events.

Seismic restraints partition wall Rondo tracklok

Building Confidence: Unveiling the Strength Behind Stunning Fitouts with Seismic Design

Beyond the dazzling aesthetics and sleek finishes, lies the hidden hero of every exceptional fitout – seismic design. In earthquake-prone regions like Australia, ensuring your workspace doesn't just look good, but stands strong, is paramount. This is where fitout engineering and AS1170.4 come into play, forming a powerful alliance to protect your employees, assets, and peace of mind.

The Ground Beneath Your Feet: Understanding Earthquake Risks

Earthquakes, though unpredictable, are a reality we must acknowledge. Australia's diverse landscape, from the bustling cities to the coastal havens, is susceptible to seismic activity. While tremors may vary in intensity, the potential for damage to poorly designed structures is undeniable. This is where AS1170.4, the Australian Standard for Earthquake Actions, steps in. It acts as a comprehensive roadmap, outlining the specific safety requirements for buildings and interiors to withstand seismic forces.

From Blueprint to Earthquake Hero: How Fitout Engineering Complies with AS1170.4

Fitout engineering, with its keen focus on interior spaces, translates the principles of AS1170.4 into tangible solutions. Here's how:

  • Meticulous Analysis: Our engineers meticulously analyze your project site, considering soil conditions, building structure, and the level of seismic activity in the region. This in-depth understanding forms the foundation for a robust design.
  • Forceful Calculations: Earthquakes unleash powerful forces. Our team delves into complex calculations to determine the specific loads your fitout elements will experience during a tremor. This includes walls, ceilings, partitions, and even furniture!
  • Material Marvels: Selecting the right materials is crucial. Fitout engineers choose materials with inherent strength and flexibility, like reinforced concrete and seismic-resistant plasterboard, to create a resilient internal structure.
  • Strategic Reinforcement: It's not just about brute force. Fitout engineers strategically place braces, dampers, and other reinforcements to absorb and disperse seismic energy, minimizing damage and ensuring structural integrity.
  • Emergency Escape: Even the most cautious plan for contingencies. Emergency exits and escape routes are designed to remain accessible, ensuring the safety of occupants during seismic events.
Seismic Ceiling Design Drawing AS1170.4 Section 8

Benefits of Fit-out Engineering

Fit-out engineering plays an important role in the construction industry transforming empty spaces into functional aesthetically pleasing environments as well as ensuring safety and seismic resilience within commercial spaces.

Here are some of the major benefits of fit-out engineering:

  1. Improved functionality and Seismic resilience: Fit-out engineering is all about optimizing the functionality of interior spaces.
  2. Structural engineering ensures that suspended ceilings and features, walls, mounted equipment, etc., can bear loads, including potential seismic loads. By carefully planning layouts and configurations, engineers analyze both existing and potential engineering systems (e.g., HVAC, Plumbing) to avoid interference. The goal is to choose simplified solutions rather than introducing bulky components.
  3. Occupant Protection and Emergency Egress: The engineering of interior development takes into account potential impacts during seismic events, aiming to prevent falling debris and provide protection to occupants. Thoughtful engineering ensures that escape routes, such as doors and corridors created by partitions, remain structurally sound during seismic events, facilitating safe emergency egress.
  4. Efficient Space Utilization: Fit-out engineering optimizes space, ensuring that every area is utilized efficiently. Through thoughtful planning, this approach allows for a seamless integration of various elements within the available space.
  5. Occupant Awareness and Training: Structural engineers may collaborate with architects to incorporate safety features into ceilings and partitions, and occupant training programs can be implemented to enhance awareness of safety procedures during seismic events. Fit-out engineering contributes to the creation of aesthetically pleasing spaces that align with brand identity or personal style. It leaves a lasting impression on occupants and visitors.
partition wall seismic design bracing AS1170.4

Benefits of Seismic Retrofitting

While it might be perceived that incorporating seismic engineering will increase construction expenses, the expenditure is counterbalanced by the manifold advantages gained through the application of specialized techniques and enhanced materials.

Here are some of the benefits of seismic design for your building;

  1. Increased Structural Resilience: Seismic design plays a critical role in ensuring structural integrity. Seismic retrofitting significantly improves a building’s ability to withstand seismic forces. It minimizes the risk of structural damage or collapse during seismic events.
  2. Improved Safety: Seismic engineering makes building safer for all involved. The occupants are more secure and should have more time to leave the building, thus minimizing the risk of injury. Safety is specifically critical for public buildings with greater occupancy such as hospitals, schools, malls, and government buildings.
  3. Increased Property Value: Seismic retrofitting can enhance the overall value of a property. The assurance of a structurally resilient building contributes to higher resale value. Thus investing in seismic design is a worthy investment for property owners and potential buyers.
  4. Compliance with Building Codes: Earthquake retrofitting ensures compliance with updated building codes and safety standards. Compliance with building codes provides peace of mind to building owners and occupants. Additionally, this compliance with building codes builds a good reputation.
  5. Lower Repair Costs: Your initial costs may be a bit higher but what seismic engineering does is make the building stronger. So, your repair costs after an earthquake are lower.

Overall the purpose of seismic design is to make sure the building does not harm the occupants during seismic events and enable enough time to evacuate the building to a safe distance.

Insights of Seismic Engineering

In contrast to conventional structural analyses, where loads are imposed upon structures, seismic design operates differently. In seismic calculations, acceleration is applied to the boundary conditions of the structure or its elements, after which we evaluate the forces within the structure arising from this acceleration.

Acceleration is applied typically to the foundation of the building and then engineers assess forces resulting from the acceleration and behaviour of the structure and internal stresses, considering variables defined by Australian Standards.

One of those variables is the importance level of a building, which plays a pivotal role in determining the seismic design category, influencing the necessary precautions and design actions.

There are 4 levels of importance or categories your building or buildings can fall into.

Importance Level 1: Buildings or structures presenting a low degree of hazard to life and other property in the case of failure. Examples include farm buildings and minor storage facilities.

Importance Level 2: This is the next step up and the buildings in this category are the ones that do not meet the requirements for levels 1, 3 & 4. Level 2 buildings need to have their seismic upgrades designed and completed in conjunction with wind and occupancy stress levels. Low-rise residential constructions are included in this level.

Importance Level 3: This level is for those buildings that hold a large number of people at one time (Typically over 300 people). You can put athletic arenas into this category.

Importance Level 4: It includes those buildings that are special. They are needed for post-disaster recovery or contain hazardous material. There are some exceptions to level one levels of importance. Those exceptions include certain residential buildings that are said to comply with NCC regulations and do not need further seismic upgrades. Hospitals would be an example of a level 4 building and those structures would require the most seismic upgrades before they comply with the NCC.

The other variable defined by AS 1170.4-2007 is the Hazard Design Factor for various areas of Australia.

The next variable would be Site Sub-Soil classification – Class Ae, Be, Ce, De, Ee

These variables, among others, establish the initial conditions of the building or structure and dictate the analysis methodology.

Thus, the seismic structural analysis and design of buildings of comparable size situated in distinct regions of Australia, each serving different purposes (e.g., warehouse versus library), may exhibit significant differences in the resulting design.

Why Choose ArchiEng for Fitout Engineering and Seismic Design?

  • Expertise Built on Solid Ground: Our team boasts extensive experience crafting fitouts partition and ceiling systems that stand firm against tremors, ensuring your peace of mind and regulatory compliance with AS1170.4.
  • Beyond Compliance, We Craft Confidence: We don't just tick boxes; we exceed expectations. Our meticulous analysis, precise calculations, and strategic reinforcement strategies create fitouts that not only meet, but surpass seismic safety requirements.
  • Innovation Meets Resilience: We don't settle for the tried-and-true. We constantly explore cutting-edge materials and technologies to build fitouts that are not just strong, but sustainable and stylish.
  • Collaboration is Our Superpower: We believe in teamwork. We work closely with you, architects, builders, and other stakeholders to ensure your fitout project seamlessly integrates structural strength with stunning aesthetics.
  • From Blueprint to Reality, We're with You: We don't disappear after the design phase. We provide ongoing support and guidance throughout construction, ensuring your fitout becomes a tremor-proof masterpiece.
Invest in Peace of Mind, Invest in ArchiEng:

Choosing ArchiEng is investing in more than just seismic design; it's investing in:

  • Business Continuity: Minimizing downtime and potential damage safeguards your business from costly disruptions.
  • Enhanced Property Value: A fitout exceeding seismic standards becomes a highly sought-after asset, boosting your property's value.
  • Employee and Client Confidence: Knowing your space is built to withstand tremors fosters a sense of security and well-being for everyone who steps inside.

Don't let earthquakes shake your vision. Partner with ArchiEng, the seismic design specislist and build a fitout that shines brightly, even in the face of earth's grumbles.

Contact ArchiEng today and let's turn your fitout dream into a tremor-proof reality!

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