Tall Buildings and Seismic Resilience – Emerging Trends in South America

Mario Lafontaine
Director Of New Technologies
Rene Lagos Engineers, Santiago

In recent years, tall building development in South America has significantly increased. While in the past decade the threshold was typically 20 to 30 stories, nowadays it is rapidly approaching 40 to 50 stories in height. While this is a common situation in the rest of the world, in South America it imposes some very relevant technical, technological and social challenges.

In terms of technical challenges, some countries despite their great seismicity, have obsolete prescriptive codes with no peer review or performance-based design requirements, which can lead to risky design decisions.

Some of the principle technological challenges are that the low labor cost in comparison with the material cost causes typical construction technologies used regionally to differ from what is common in more developed countries. When this aspect is ignored in the choice of the structural system, the construction cost ends up being highly noncompetitive for the region. Also, seismic protection technologies are slowly being introduced as a cost-effective solution that requires further specialization of the practicing engineers.

From a social perspective, the high seismic risk present on the western coast of South America and the history of earthquakes can potentially cause people to be reticent to live nearby unless they feel confident in the seismic resilience of a given building or community.

This presentation demonstrates a vision that is the result of our professional practice as structural engineers of many of this new generation of tall buildings, by exploring real examples of currently and recently developed buildings in South America that are among the tallest in their respective countries.