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Seismic isolation

system patented in
Japan has applicability
in earthquake-prone
U.S. locations.
by Clyde E. Witt
Editors note: In May I was on a natural history tour to Trini-
dad and Tobago. Our guide took the opportunity to show us a
spot where an earthquake had occurred a few months earlier. The
fissure in the ground ran for more than 50 yards. The ground was
uneven and still gaped a foot wide in places. It started me thinking
about how buildings might fare in areas of seismic activity. I asked
the experts at ProLogis for some information. CW
seismic isolation construction method
used in multi-storied warehouses in Ja-
pan has recently won patent protection
from the government there.
Now industry observers here are won-
dering whether the technique has appli-
cation in North America--especially in markets like San
Francisco and Los Angeles, where earthquakes are a fact
of life and where land constraints make multi-story distri-
bution centers economically feasible.
The technique was pioneered by ProLogis (, the Denver-based industrial real estate de-
veloper, which has extensive operations in Japan. The
It Cant
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method enables seismic isolation de-
vices to be installed in buildings using
reduced amounts of excavation and
construction material.
Multi-story warehouses are com-
mon in Japan due to land constraints
throughout the country, and protect-
ing them from earthquake damage
can add significantly to the total cost
of construction, says Kenji Ishijima,
the companys first vice president of
construction management in Japan.
This method enables us to reduce
that cost in a meaningful way, with-
out compromising the structural in-
tegrity of the building.
Japans multi-storied
distribution centers
Japan has the worlds second-larg-
est economy. The country is densely
populated and highly land con-
strained, with nearly 70% of its land-
mass mountainous and uninhabitable.
Consequently, more than 80% of Ja-
pans population, 10th largest in the
world, is concentrated in about 30%
of the countrys coastal flatlands.
Developable land in urban areas is
scarce and extremely expensive. In
Tokyo, for example, industrial-zoned
land can sell for as much as five to
eight times the premium prices for
similarly-zoned land in such prime
U.S. locations as those near the Los
Angeles/ Long Beach seaports.
As a result, multi-storied distribu-
tion centers are common throughout
Japan, including in Tokyo, Osaka, Na-
goya and other key distribution hubs.
While the purpose of these building
remains the same, the structures are
vastly different from anything found
in the United States today.
In Japan, distribution facilities
range between four and eight sto-
ries and often exceed more than one
million square feet. Dock doors line
either side of a one-way truck cor-
ridor that runs through the middle of
each floor and connects two opposing
spiral access ramps; one for incom-
ing traffic on one end and one for
outgoing on the other. Truck court
parking is restricted and trailer park-
ing is limited.
The cost to develop a multi-storied
distribution facility is considerably
higher than it would be for a stan-
dard one-story facility elsewhere in
the world. For example, a one mil-
lion-square-foot distribution facil-
ity located in Southern Californias
Western Inland Empire, currently
the hottest, priciest, most land-con-
strained market for industrial real
estate in the U.S., would cost be-
tween $85-$95 million to develop.
(This approximation includes land,
hard and soft costs based on a 45%
building coverage.) In the Tokyo
Bay Area, which could be consid-
ered Japans Inland Empire, a one
million-square-foot multi-storied
distribution center would average
between $200-$300 million.
Seismic safety
a key factor
Japan is located in one of the most
earthquake-prone regions in the
world, experiencing more than 1,000
seismic events each year. Multi-sto-
ried warehouses, though efficient,
are obviously at risk for damage by
these earthquakes.
To prevent the loss of life and
property, real estate developers in Ja-
pan today are using a variety of earth-
quake mitigation methods. These in-
clude anti-seismic, vibration control
and seismic isolation techniques.
Seismic isolation is generally con-
sidered the most effective. It involves
placing a seismic isolation device,
which is composed of a rubber bear-
ing, isolation cylinder and steel balls,
between the foundation of the build-
ing and the ground to help displace
horizontal and vertical movement
caused by an earthquake. By convert-
ing strong seismic vibrations into a
low speed motion, structural integrity
is maintained and the risk of damage
to the building, from the top floor to
the ground level, is reduced.
But seismic isolation is also the
most costly approach. A single seis-
mic isolation device can cost upwards
of $20,000, and a multi-storied facil-
ity totaling one million square feet or
more might need between 200 and
300 such devices.
The design and construction tech-
nique devised by ProLogis, however,
directly connects a seismic isolation
device to a steel pipe pile, a key com-
ponent in building foundations,
instead of between the foundation
and the ground. While this does
not reduce the number of devices
needed, it does reduce the size of the
foundations as well as smaller build-
ing columns and beams, which saves
substantial construction time and ma-
terials costs. The company estimates
its patented construction method
saves more than 60% on foundation
costs while achieving more than 80%
seismic input absorption.
It also results in minimal post-
quake repair costs and helps ensure
that building operations are main-
tained, says Ishijima.
Currently, ProLogis has four indus-
trial parks in Japan that were devel-
ProLogis building in
Yokohama, Japan.
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Seismic.a.indd 36 8/22/07 12:08:20 PM
oped using the now-patented seismic
isolation technology; three in Osaka
and one in Tokyo. Combined, the
four parks total 4.6 million square
feet of distribution space.
ProLogis Parc Yokohama, located
near the Port of Yokohama in To-
kyo, withstood an earthquake in
July, 2006, that registered a 5 in seis-
mic intensity on the Japanese scale
of 7. The buildings seismometer
(earthquake recorder) showed that
seismic input between the ground
level and first floor alone was re-
duced by more than one-third.
Were extremely pleased with
the performance weve seen so far,
says Ishijima.
in the U.S.
As warehouse facilities become
larger, port markets like Los An-
geles and San Francisco grow more
land constrained and the high cost of
transportation begins to outweigh the
benefits of inland development, the
economics of building of multi-distri-
bution facilities will eventually start to
make sense.
Multi-story distribution centers
will become more common around
key seaports as industrial land in
those areas becomes more expen-
sive, says Jack Rizzo, managing di-
rector of global construction for Pro-
Logis. Coincidentally, some of the
most land-constrained markets in the
U.S. are also located in earthquake
zones. As such, we believe that seismic
technology has potential application
in distribution markets outside Japan
where earthquakes are prevalent.
Rizzo adds that the company has
started preliminary discussions
about potential applications of
seismic technology in multi-story
buildings in other earthquake-
prone markets. For now though,
the company is satisfied to de-
velop these unique buildings only
in Japan, where it eventually plans
to license its patented construc-
tion method to other developers
for a fee.
With adequate modifications for
the U.S. distribution market, it is
feasible that multi-story distribution
facilities will appear in Californias
seaports within the next five to 10
years, says Rizzo. We are fortu-
nate to have developed significant
expertise in both multi-story con-
struction and seismic mitigation
through our efforts in Japan, and
anticipate these capabilities will pro-
vide ProLogis with a real competi-
tive advantage in land constrained
markets in the future. MHM
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Copyright 2007 by Penton Media, Inc.
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