News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Freres technology survives 10-story earthquake test

It was kind of like watching one of those NASA launches. A large wooden structure was thrusting upward from a launchpad of sorts, with cameras everywhere and hyperventilating scientists and reporters firing off comments into a chat box.

Comments like:

“This is going to be so cool!!!”

“Let’s see this building dance.”

“Ooooga boooga.”

“Awesome! Any more motions to come?”

 “The links I was provided were wrong and I missed it. 🙁 ”

Officials from Freres Engineered Wood were on the chat as well, offering “congratulations” to everyone that was involved and “we’re so impressed with this project and thrilled to have mass ply included” in the test conducted May 9.

Mass ply is short for mass plywood panels, a technology in which Lyons-based Freres has been an industry leader. The rocking walls on two sides of the 10-story test building were manufactured by Freres, and researchers rattled the structure with a pair of simulated earthquakes in an effort to gauge the seismic safety of tall wood buildings. The rocking walls, said Tyler Freres, vice president for sales, “are the primary elements resisting the lateral forces of the seismic event.”

Mass plywood panels are constructed with density-graded Douglas-fir veneers, which are glued and pressed together, creating large-format wood platforms, beams and columns that can be manufactured in sizes up to 12 feet by 48 feet. 

There was a bit of a whoosh of sound during the two tests, and the building swayed noticeably – but remained upright – both times as it was a buffeted by seismic waves aimed to match the 1971 7.1 Northridge (California) earthquake and then the 1999 7.7 Chi-Chi (Taiwan) quake. The test was conducted at the Englekirk Structural Engineering Center at UC-San Diego, with a 9.0 quake test possible in the coming days. 

The Canyon Weekly discussed the test program via an email exchange with Tyler Freres. The conversation was edited for clarity and length.

TCW: What technology is being tested?

Freres: The rocking walls are intended to absorb the energy created by a seismic event to prevent destruction to the building. There are also energy dissipaters built into the sides of the panels which are supposed to fail during an event and can be replaced afterward to have a functioning building. The goal is to not only have a building to survive a significant seismic event for egress, but also to be usable and habitable. To date, no building made out of any other material has been expected to survive these tests. The goal of the project is to prove that wood is resilient to earthquakes and is a preferred method of building in seismic zones.

TCW: What is Freres hoping to learn from the exercise?

Freres: We hope that the building survives! Above all, we hope that these tests prove that wood checks all the necessary boxes for being a preferred building material. Not only does it expedite multi-story construction, it also sequesters carbon, is completely renewable, the necessary forest management can reduce wildfire danger, and it is also the best material to survive catastrophic events.

TCW: Any surprises for you and your team?

Freres: No surprises yet, the professors have indicated that everything is going to plan and there is no structural damage, just cosmetic issues with dry wall. The big tests are coming up  and I am looking forward to being on site for them. I believe they are going to crown the testing with a 9.0 magnitude, but that is not entirely clear to me yet. Being as this is the tallest structure to survive this type of testing, I think the point has been made. It may take a very long time for the data to be processed to the point that it can be used for real-world design.

As Freres noted, the tests aren’t over. American and international researchers will be working in the coming days at the Englekirk facility as part of the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) tall wood project. 

The research is being paid for by the National Science Foundation and is being conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service and multiple industry and institutional partners. The structure is the tallest ever to be tested with seismic waves.

The Englekirk “shake table” is capable of carrying and shaking structures weighing up to 4.5 million pounds. It can reproduce full 3D ground motions that occur during earthquakes and all 6 degrees of freedom: longitudinal, lateral, vertical, roll, pitch and yaw. It is the only facility in the world capable of conducting such tests on tall wood buildings.

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