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Differences between NBCC and ASCE 7 in Seismic Design Philosophy

The National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) and the American Society of Civil Engineers' ASCE 7 Standard are two prominent guidelines for seismic design. Both standards aim to ensure the safety and performance of structures during seismic events, but their seismic design philosophies differ in several ways. This article discusses the distinctions between NBCC and ASCE 7 in terms of seismic design philosophy, focusing on the fundamental principles that guide the design and construction of structures.

Design Objectives

NBCC: The NBCC's primary design objective is to ensure life safety, property protection, and operational continuity for structures during seismic events. To achieve these objectives, the NBCC uses a single set of performance criteria and force-based design methods for all types of structures, regardless of their location or importance.

ASCE 7: ASCE 7 establishes different design objectives based on the structure's importance, occupancy, and location. The standard defines various structural performance categories, each with specific design requirements that ensure an appropriate level of safety and performance during seismic events.

Performance-Based Design Approach

NBCC: The NBCC does not explicitly incorporate a performance-based design approach in its seismic design provisions. Instead, it relies on prescriptive force-based design methods to achieve the desired performance objectives for structures during seismic events.

ASCE 7: ASCE 7 embraces a performance-based design approach, allowing engineers to design structures for specific performance levels during seismic events. This approach provides greater flexibility in the design process, enabling engineers to optimize structural performance based on the building's importance, occupancy, and location.

Seismic Force Resisting Systems (SFRS)

NBCC: The NBCC provides guidelines for selecting and designing seismic force resisting systems (SFRS) for structures. The standard includes various types of SFRS, each with associated design requirements. The SFRS selection is based on factors such as building type, seismic hazard, and structural configuration.

ASCE 7: ASCE 7 also provides guidance on selecting and designing SFRS but offers a more extensive range of SFRS options and more detailed design requirements. This difference allows for greater flexibility in selecting appropriate systems based on the specific requirements of a project and site conditions.

Structural Redundancy and Ductility

NBCC: The NBCC emphasizes the importance of structural redundancy and ductility in seismic design. These principles ensure that structures can absorb and dissipate seismic energy, preventing catastrophic failures during seismic events. However, the NBCC does not explicitly require the consideration of these principles in the design process.

ASCE 7: ASCE 7 places a strong emphasis on structural redundancy and ductility in seismic design. The standard explicitly requires the consideration of these principles in the design process, ensuring that structures have the necessary capacity to absorb and dissipate seismic energy during earthquakes.

Nonstructural Components and Systems

NBCC: The NBCC includes limited provisions for the design and detailing of nonstructural components and systems, focusing primarily on the structural aspects of seismic design.

ASCE 7: ASCE 7 provides more extensive guidance on the design and detailing of nonstructural components and systems, recognizing the importance of their performance during seismic events. The standard addresses various nonstructural elements, such as architectural components, mechanical and electrical systems, and life safety systems, ensuring their adequate performance during earthquakes.


Understanding the differences between NBCC and ASCE 7 in seismic design philosophy is crucial for engineers working on seismic design projects. The distinctions in design objectives, performance-based design approach, seismic force resisting systems, structural redundancy and ductility, and nonstructural components and systems can significantly impact the design and performance of structures during seismic events.

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