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Several issues have been brought up during the course of this debate

and I decided to spend some time to try and collectively remark on all
these important inter-connected issues (some of it is really basic, but I
think it is always good to go back to the basics, we can never go wrong):

[1] What is Ductility Detailing?

For a given seismic demand (dynamic forces generated by a given

ground motion), if your structure (or your design) does not remain
elastic, i.e., it undergoes plasticity/fracture/damage, then stiffness could
drop dramatically, deformations will increase significantly. Under these
increased deformations, you should ensure that your structure remains
stable without collapsing, i.e., it should not loose vertical load carrying
capacity; you have to detail it in such a way that it can undergo large
deformations without collapsing. The ability of a structure to undergo
large deformations without collapsing is called ductility, and the
detailing of the structure that enables the structure to have large
ductility is called ductile or ductility detailing. The word ductility has a
strict definition in material science where it is defined as the ratio of
ultimate strain to yield strain of the material. The term is loosely used in
earthquake engineering to indicate the degree to which an assembled
structure that is damaged can undergo large deformations without
[2] When do you need Ductility Detailing?

If you can design your structure to remain elastic under the maximum
expected level of earthquake shaking, then there is no need for
ductility detailing. However, engineers recognized long ago that it
was not practically possible to come up with economically or
architecturally viable designs if the structures were to remain
elastic during maximum considered earthquake motions (every
structure would look like a Fort Knox). So, the next best option was to
allow the structure to undergo damage (plasticity, fracture, crushing,
etc.), but make sure that the structure does not loose its vertical
load carrying capacity as it is undergoing large deformations when
damaged. For example, if you want concrete columns to continue
carrying vertical loads even when there is significant cracking,
concrete crushing and/or steel yielding, you would want to confine the
concrete (keep chunks of concrete from falling out of the steel cage)
and you would want to prevent buckling of the longitudinal bars. You
can achieve both of these characteristics by providing very closely
spaced closed ties with 135 degree hooks to sturdily anchor them
against a longitudinal bar.

Because the material has now become compliant the stiffness forces in
the components and structure will drop. In other words, if the
structure were to remain elastic the internal forces (and the total
base shear which is the sum of the internal shear forces in all the
vertical load carrying elements) would be far higher than if the
structure were to be damaged. This reduction in base shear arising
out of the fact that we have allowed the structure to get damaged is
embodied in the "Dynamic Response Modification" factor or the
"Ductility" factor, Rd, in building codes worldwide. Rd is specific
to each type of lateral force resisting system. Rd is higher for
systems where ductility detailing can enable the system to undergo
larger deformations without collapsing when damaged, it is lower for
systems where ductility detailing enables the system to undergo only
smaller deformations before collapsing. Rd is NOT the same as the more
familiar R
factor in building codes. It is one of two factors that go into the
computation of the "R"

[3] R factor

The R factor is the product of the "ductility" factor, Rd, and the
"overstrength" factor or "total system resistance capacity" factor, Ro
(i.e., R = Rd*Ro). Ro is the ratio of the true structural strength of
individual elements to the design strength. It accounts for load
factors in load combinations, extra system design provisions,
contribution from the gravity system (nonlateral force-resisting
system) and nonstructural elements, as well as the as-built sizes and
materials strength. If you are not doing ductile detailing of any
portion of your structure (say the basement), you can still take
advantage of the overstrength factor (i.e., R = Ro) when you are
designing the basement walls for the maximum considered earthquake

[4] Do you need ductile detailing in the basements?

From the above discussion, it can be concluded that if basement walls

can be designed to remain elastic during maximum considered
motions, i.e., design for R=Ro alone with no allowance for ductility
(Rd=1), then there is no need for any ductility detailing. However,
there is one very important uncertainty, and that is "the actual
earthquake ground motion". What if the maximum considered motions
the design are exceeded? This happens all the time (the most recent
Christchurch, New Zealand, event and the Tohoku, Japan event are
examples). Will there not be brittle failures possibly leading to
collapse? To address this and to balance it with economy of
construction, the ACI requires ductility detailing for shear wall
systems in regions of "high seismic risk", but not in regions of
"moderate seismic risk". This in itself may not be a good criterion,
given that both the Christchurch and Tohoku events occurred in regions
where seismicity was considered more moderate. Nevertheless, that is
the criterion as of now. Note: ACI requires ductility detailing for
RC frames even in regions with moderate seismic risk.

[4.1] What are these requirements as applicable to basement shear wall


Typically, basement walls are thick and continuous around the

perimeter of the basement, designed as retaining walls for
out-of-plane cantilever bending to resist soil-pressures during
excavation. Their shear capacity (with overstrength included, i.e.,
R=Ro) in the longitudinal direction is usually so large that it far
exceeds the stiffness force demand from the super-structure, i.e., the
deformation demand on these walls will be small. As a result, even in
high seismicity regions, only certain basic, but very important,
ductility requirements need to be satified {two curtains of horizontal
and vertical reinforcement if shear stress exceeds 2*sqrt(fc') [fc'
and sqrt(fc') are in psi units] with certain minimum levels in either
direction}. Boundary elements typically will not be necessary (as the
maximum extreme fiber stress corresponding to factored forces
including earthquake effect will typically not exceed 0.2fc').
However, the boundary elements in the first story of the
super-structure walls should be continued down through the basement
the foundations. These should NOT be terminated at the top basement
level or other lower basement levels. This is because the axial
forces resulting from super-structure cantilever bending have to be
transmitted safely to the foundation. Unlike shear forces which can
be redistributed to the basement walls by the floor diaphragm, there
is no mechanism for redistributing these axial forces to the basement

You would check the basement walls for the following base shear:

Vdb = (Vb + Vs*Rsuper)/Rbasement

Vdb = basement design base shear;

Vb = unreduced basement base shear;

Vs = shear forces from the super-structure;

Rsuper = R factor of the super-structure;

Rbasement = R factor for the basement (corresponding to a "bearing

wall" system); note that because you are providing basic ductility
detailing, you are allowed to use Rd greater than 1, i.e., R=Ro*Rd.

Note that when combinations of structural systems are employed (as in

this case, for example, different structural systems for the
superstructure and the basement), the flexible upper portion should be
designed as a separate structure, supported laterally by the rigid
lower portion. The rigid lower portion should be designed as a
separate structure with the appropriate value of R. The reactions
from the upper portion determined from the analysis of the super
structure should be amplified by the ratio of the R of the upper
structure to that of the lower structure (basement). In the above
equation, Rsuper/Rbasement represents this amplification.

You would still need to combine the seismic shear forces with the
shear forces from soils (if there is a difference in soil heights at
two opposite faces of the building).

[4.2] What about IS13920:1993 and its revisions?

The above procedure would be consistent with the intent of IS13920

(originally drafted by Profs. Murty and Jain when they were at IIT
Kanpur) which draws heavily from the ACI. In Indian seismic zones
III, IV, and V, the ductility detailing requirements are similar to
the ACI requirements described above. You may typically require two
curtains of reinforcement, from either seismic and/or soil retention
during excavation considerations. My own opinion is that confinement
of wall concrete is best achieved by two curtains, and I would design
basement walls that way, even if it is not strictly required by code.

[5] Underground structures

Underground structures such as tunnels being confined by the
surrounding soil medium tend to be pulled, pushed, twisted, and
sheared by the surrounding medium as seismic waves travel through the
medium. They are more susceptible to ground deformation (in the
longitudinal and transverse directions) along their length, as opposed
to accelerations. Axial deformations, curvature changes, racking
deformation of rectangular cross-sections, and/or ovaling of circular
cross-sections can result. Past performance indicates that tunnels
built with shallow soil overburden cover tend to be more vulnerable to
earthquakes than deep ones. Soil-structure interaction is central to
the response (beam on elastic foundation modeling is appropriate). On
the other hand, basements in buildings, unless they are very deep, for
the most part, interact with the ground through the foundations (and
the slab on ground). The confining soils on the sides (no
over-burden) and SSI play a less important role. From the behavioral
and geometric proportioning perspectives, basements in buildings
cannot be equated with other typical underground structures.

Having said this, if the deformation demands could cause the

underground structure to go inelastic, ductility detailing is
warranted, be it a basement or a tunnel.

[6] Deformation compatibility

This is somewhat unrelated, but one of the posts seemed to suggest
that ductility detailing can be limited to the lateral force-resisting
system only. This is not true. It is important that elements not
part of the lateral system be designed and detailed for deformation
compatibility. If these elements are not capable of sustaining their
gravity loads under the deformations induced by the earthquake (the
deformations that the lateral system is going through), then collapse
will occur. In determining the deformation demands, proper care must
be given to flexural, shear, and axial deformations, P-Delta effects,
diaphragm deformations, foundation deformations (rotations,
differential settlement, etc.), cracked section properties for concrete
elements, torsional and orthogonal effects, etc. For example, gravity
columns must be able to sustain their gravity loads at peak lateral
deformation experienced by the lateral force-resisting system during
the maximum considered earthquake. Ductile detailing will generally
be necessary to achieve proper deformation compatibility.