A Simplified Model for Lateral Response of Caisson Foundations

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Asimaki, Domniki
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Caisson or pier foundations are encountered as part of the foundation system of tall structures such as bridges, transmission towers, heliostats, etc, and correspond to rigid blocks of length-to-diameter (D/B) ratio on the order of D/B = 2-6. As a result of their geometry and stiffness characteristics, the mechanisms of load transfer from the superstructure to the surrounding soil and their kinematic response to seismic wave propagation are governed by a complex stress distribution at the pier-soil interface, which cannot be adequately represented by means of simplified Winkler models for shallow foundations or flexible piles. Continuum model solutions, such as 3D finite elements (FE) cannot be employed frequently in practice for the design of non-critical facilities due to the cost and effort associated with these analyses. The objective of this work is to develop a Winkler-type model for the analysis of transversely-loaded caissons, which approximately accounts for all the main soil resistance mechanisms mobilized, while retaining the advantages of simplified methodologies for design at intermediate levels of target accuracy. Investigation of the governing load-transfer mechanisms and development of complex spring functions is formulated on the basis of 3D FE simulations. Initially, the soil-structure stiffness matrix is computed by subjecting the pier to transverse static and dynamic loading at the top, and numerically estimating the response. Complex frequency-dependent functions are next developed for the spring constants by equating the stiffness matrix terms to the analytical expressions developed for the four-spring model. Sensitivity analyses are conducted for optimization of the truncated numerical domain size, finite element size and far-field dynamic boundary conditions to avoid spurious wave reflections. Simulations are next conducted to evaluate the transient response of the foundation subjected to vertically propagating shear waves, and results are compared to the response predicted by means of the 4-spring model. Finally, the applicability of the method is assessed for soil profiles with depth-varying properties. While the methodology developed is applicable for linear elastic media with no material damping, the expressions of complex spring functions may be extended to include hysteretic damping, nonlinear soil behavior and soil-foundation interface separation, as shown in the conclusions.
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