A new technology that reduces vibrations in skyscrapers could significantly reduce the costs of constructing and repairing high-rise buildings in earthquake and typhoon-prone regions around the world.

Called the viscoelastic coupling damper (VCD), the shock absorbing technology was developed by Canadian researchers to better control building vibrations caused by high winds and tremors. VCDs are especially relevant for the Asian market as the vast majority of high-rise buildings built in the next few decades will be located in Asia.

Designed to replace a typical concrete beam and averaging about 0.3 cubic metres in size, a single VCD consists of multiple layers of viscoelastic material sandwiched between layers of steel plates. Depending on the size of a building and the amount of damping required, between 100 and 300 VCDs might be installed per high-rise. This would replace the standard heavy concrete coupling beams used in many existing high-rises that are expected to sustain damage after large earthquakes.

Viscoelastic coupling dampers (VCDs) consist of multiple layers of viscoelastic material sandwiched between layers of steel plates, allowing them to absorb vibrations caused by high winds and earthquakes. Image: Professor Constantin Christopoulos

“In the designs we’ve completed, the savings to a builder ranged from US$4-10 million when compared to vibration absorption systems,” says Professor Constantin Christopoulos of the University of Toronto (U of T). “These savings are primarily because our technology does not occupy any architectural space, as a VCD is embedded inside a building’s structure. By contrast, tuned mass dampers or sloshing vibration absorbers often occupy the top floors of the building, which are the most valuable.”

In the event of a severe earthquake, replaceable VCDs would absorb most of the vibrations, eliminating the need for major building repairs, adds Professor Christopoulos. “There would still be localized damage at the base of the walls. But this does not impact a building as much as distributed damage from concrete coupling beams over its entire height, which may render a building completely unusable during repairs.”

Commercialization of this technology is being led by a U of T spinoff company, Kinetica, which has forged a partnership with Nippon Steel Engineering – a subsidiary of Nippon Steel Mill – to market the VCD worldwide. Construction of the first high-rise building, where VCD technology is being considered for use, is scheduled to begin in Toronto in 2014. “In addition, Kinetica is currently in discussions with the structural engineers of three major projects in Asia,” says Professor Christopoulos.



For further information contact:

Professor Constantin Christopoulos
Department of Civil Engineering
University of Toronto, Canada
Email: c.christopoulos@utoronto.ca