Axial shortening of steel columns in buildings subjected to earthquakes

  • Gregory A. MacRae University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Christopher R. Urmson Texas A & M University, College Station, USA
  • Warren R. Walpole University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Peter Moss University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Karissa Hyde MWH Global, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Charles Clifton University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand


Steel members subject to axial compression and inelastic cyclic displacements, such as may occur during earthquake excitation, exhibit axial shortening due to material inelastic deformation irrespective of the occurrence of buckling. This column axial shortening can cause undesirable effects in the building, especially if it occurs to a different extent in different columns of a seismic-resisting system. This paper summarizes experimental and finite element studies to quantify the axial shortening of columns with known axial forces pushed to inelastic cyclic displacements. A flexural hinge model for a frame analysis program is developed and calibrated against that from experimental and analytical studies. Then, to quantify the effect of axial shortening on realistic moment and eccentrically-braced frames during earthquakes, inelastic dynamic time history analyses were conducted. While axial shortening of more than 7% of the column length was obtained during experimental testing, the axial shortening was always less than 1% of the column interstorey height in the steel frames studied. A method to estimate the axial shortening as a function of the expected inelasticity is developed. Finally, several new details are described in order to prevent detrimental effects due to axial shortening.


ABAQUS Inc. (2004). ABAQUS (Version 6.5.1) [Computer Software]. Providence

Carr, A.J. (2007). Ruaumoko-2D [Computer Software]. Department of Civil Engineering, University of Canterbury, Christchurch

Clifton, G.C. (2005). “Semi-Rigid Joints for Moment Resisting Steel Framed Seismic Resisting Systems”. PhD Thesis, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Auckland.

Gledhill, S.M., Sidwell, G.K., and Bell, D.K. (2008). “The Damage Avoidance Design of tall steel frame buildings - Fairlie Terrace Student Accommodation Project, Victoria University of Wellington”, New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering Annual Conference, Wairakei, April.

Hyde, K., MacRae, G.A., Moss, P.J. and Walpole, W.R. (2006). “Axial Shortening of Steel Columns Subjected to Constant Axial Compression and Inelastic Cyclic Displacements”. Research Report 06-6, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Canterbury, Christchurch.

Hopperstad, O.S. and Remseth, S. (1996). “On Cyclic Stability of Beam-Columns”. XXV General Assembly of the European Seismology Commission (Ed. Thorkelsson, B.).

Mackinven, H., MacRae, G.A., Pampanin, S., Clifton, G.C. and Butterworth, J. (2007). “Generation Four Steel Moment Frame Joints”. Pacific Conference on Earthquake Engineering.

MacRae, G.A., Carr, A.J. and Walpole, W.R. (1990). “The Seismic Response of Steel Frames”. Research Report 90-6, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Canterbury, Christchurch

MacRae, G. A. and Kawashima, K. (1993). “The Seismic Response of Bilinear Oscillators using Japanese Earthquake Records”. Journal of Research, Vol. 30, Public Works Research Institute, Ministry of Construction, Ibaraki.

Peng, B., MacRae, G., Walpole, W., Moss, P. and Dhakal, R., “Plastic Hinge Location in Columns of Steel Frames”, Civil Engineering Research Report, University of Canterbury, 2006-05. ISSN 0110-3326. June 2006.

Popov, E. P., Bertero, V. V. and Chandramoulli, S., (1975). “Hysteretic Behaviour of Steel Columns”, UCB/EERC 75-11, Earthquake Engineering Research Centre, Richmond, USA.

Somerville, P., Smith, N., and Penyamurthula, S., “Development of Ground Motion Time Histories for Phase II of the FEMA/SAC Steel Project”, SAC Background Document Report, Report No. SAC/BD-97/04, 1997.

Standards New Zealand (1997). NZS 3404: 1997 Steel Structures Standard. Standards New Zealand, Wellington.

Standards New Zealand (2002). AS/NZS 1170: 2004 Structural Design Actions. Standards New Zealand, Wellington.

How to Cite
MacRae, G. A., Urmson, C. R., Walpole, W. R., Moss, P., Hyde, K., & Clifton, C. (2009). Axial shortening of steel columns in buildings subjected to earthquakes. Bulletin of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, 42(4), 275-287.

Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 > >>