Commission Grantee – Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER)

Tall Building Initiative – Insuring New Building Technologies Are Safe


Compare photos of the skylines of San Francisco or Los Angeles from the 1970s with photos today and you will notice that buildings are taller, a lot taller. Many of the newer tall buildings are mixed use, including residential units. We take for granted that these are safe in case of earthquake, but are they? The materials and construction techniques used today are new and we hope improved, but we are putting new stresses on the buildings as they rise and the land they are built upon.

The Seismic Safety Commission, together with other funders, has sponsored work on Tall Buildings by the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER), which has recently released some of its recommendations. Peer is a cooperative research center with researchers from over 20 universities and private sector firms working together to improve building safety and promote appropriate public policy.

In the early stages of the Tall Building Initiative, PEER conducted research into perceptions by key stakeholders (governments, owners, builders, etc.) and found the following:

  • “Stakeholders were surprised by, and not necessarily accepting of, current code performance expectations for normal buildings.
  • Stakeholders strongly advocate disclosure of risks and anticipated performance, including serviceability and fire risks.
  • Most believed that a higher standard should be required for tall buildings.”

Based on this input and its extensive background and experience, PEER developed a set of recommendations which are included in PEER Report No. 2017/06 titled: “Guidelines for Performance-Based Seismic Design of Tall Buildings V 2.03.” This new version of the PEER Guidelines addresses lessons learned since the earlier version, based on updates from “many projects and the conditions, knowledge, and state-of-practice that presently exist.” Not necessarily an easy read for the general public, this report contains valuable information for those responsible for building safety.