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Probabilistic Seismic Design of Soil-Pile Raft-Superstructure System

Biplab Das1, Rajib Saha1* and Sumanta Haldar2


Graduate student, NIT Agartala, Jirania, Tripura (w) 799055

Assistant Professor, Civil Engineering Dept., NIT Agartala, Tripura (w) 799055
Assistant Professor, School of Infrastructure, IIT Bhubaneswar, Odisha 750013

ABSTRACT: Sustainable design of foundations and structural members require safe

and environmental friendly structure with minimum material use. Piled-raft
foundations are commonly used to support heavy structures in soft soil. Traditionally,
seismic design of such structure is carried out considering fixity at base level in a soilpile raft-structure system while pile head is considered to be fixed for design of pile.
Major drawback of this fixed base assumption is that it cannot capture soil structure
interaction (SSI) effect. Incorporation of SSI may result in increased or decreased
transmitted shear to the pile and column as compared to fixed base shear which may
lead to unsafe or over-safe pile design. Since natural soil properties vary at different
points within geologically distinct layers. As a result, transmitted shear to the pile and
column depends on in-situ variability of design soil parameters, thus leads to
transformation of the whole problem to reliability based SSI design problem. Thus,
precise estimation of safety margin is needed for rational and sustainable design of
pile. Hence, a probabilistic analysis incorporating SSI is performed in present study to
develop insight into the problem for refining the existing design guidelines.



Seismic design of structures supported on deep foundation is challenging and

complex as the mechanism of transfer of lateral loads to the subsurface strata is
essentially dependent on the attributes of sub-soil and pile, which is typically a soil
structure interaction (SSI) problem. Soil-pile foundation-structure interaction is an
important consideration in evaluating the seismic response of structures supported on
pile foundation. Failure of pile foundation supported structure in various seismic
events [e.g. Mexico City (1985), Loma Prieta (1989), Kobe earthquake (1995)]
indicated the importance of SSI in seismic design, while, a conventional perception of
non-consideration of SSI already exists as suggested by codal guidelines (ATC (3)
1978, NIST 2012, NEHRP 1997) due to its beneficial attributes. Several studies
indicated the design implication of SSI on pile foundation considering both kinematic
and inertial interaction (e.g. Gazetas 1984, Rovithis et al. 2009, Tokimatsu et al.
2005). In fact, most of the studies in this direction have mainly focused on intricacy
of dynamic SSI modeling and method of analysis. However, a limited effort has been

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given towards distribution of design forces in superstructure and pile foundation

considering such whole system interaction which may crucial from design point of
A recent study (Saha et al. 2013) has primarily attempted to examine the
influence of SSI with deterministic choice of soil parameters on distribution of
seismic design forces at different elements of a soil-pile raft-structure system. This
study clearly indicates that relative acceleration of heavy raft and upper part of the
pile with respect to the neighboring soil attracts extra lateral force which may lead to
considerable increase in pile head shear. But in reality, in-situ properties of soil in a
distinct geological layer are highly uncertain (Phoon and Kulhway 1999). Such
properties may vary along depth, horizontal directions, and with time. It is reported
that variability of in-situ properties of soil may lead to uncertainty in response of the
system which may invite a variability of safety margin given for evaluating design
forces (Phoon and Kulhway 1999). Hence, the reliability based design is important in
order to predict the safety margin for column and pile foundation. However, few
studies have addressed probabilistic seismic design of pile with emphasis on different
reliability techniques (e.g., Tandjiria et al., 2000, Pula and Rozanski, 2012). Haldar
and Babu (2008) presented the effect of in-situ variability on seismic design of pile
considering pseudo-static analysis. In this context, present study is an attempt to
incorporate the uncertainty of in-situ soil properties associated with this soil-pile raftstructure interaction problem using dynamic analysis in probabilistic domain which
may give a rational prediction of response of the system. In this study, stiffness of soil
is considered as the random variable exhibiting a standard range of coefficient of
variation (COV) with respect to an assumed mean value. Monte Carlo simulation
(MCS) technique is used to obtain the probabilistic response of system. This limited
study may give a valuable input in order to examine conventional seismic design
approach for heavy piled raft supported structural system which may useful for
sustainable design for such structure.


Superstructure modeling

Single storey structure is idealized by a lumped mass stick model having single
degree of freedom (SDOF) is used in a simplistic manner to represent the three
dimensional space frame superstructure supported by piled raft foundation and fixed
base condition. Column of the stick model is modelled by using elastic beam column
element. Two periods, namely, 0.4 sec and 2.0 sec for typical short and long period
structure are considered in the analysis by adjusting the lumped mass and lateral
stiffness of the column of the stick model.

Raft-soil modeling

Raft is modeled as a four noded shell element, each having six degrees of freedom
and discretized into (40 40) small elements on the basis of a convergence study.

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Total mass of the raft is calculated and assigned as a distributed mass to all nodes.
Soil beneath the raft is idealized as an equivalent linear elastic springs (Winkler soil
idealization) connected with each node of raft in all translational degrees of freedom.
Stiffness of distributed lateral springs in two mutually perpendicular horizontal
directions (lateral (Kx1) and longitudinal (Kx2)) are assigned following Dutta et al.
(2009) as presented below,
K x1 = K xG1 n 2


K x 2 = K xG 2 n 2


Ky =


5 .4




(1 )

where n is number of elements, G is the shear modulus of soil, LR is the length of raft
and is the Poissons ratio of soil. The shear modulus of soil (in t/ft2) is computed
using the relationship given by Ohsaki and Iwasaki (1973) as presented below.
G = 120N0.8
where N is the SPT value of soil. Stiffness of all springs connected to the
intermediate nodes of the raft assumed to be same. However, at the corner and
peripheral nodes, spring stiffness one-fourth or half of the stiffness of the springs at
intermediate depending on their influence area. The expressions for K xG1 and K xG 2 are
presented in Table 1 (Dutta et al. 2009). A piled raft having plan area of 10m 10m
is taken into consideration for the present study. The thickness of raft is calculated as
0.9m considering relative stiffness of raft (krs) as moderately rigid having krs = 1.0.
Table 1. Stiffness of equivalent springs along various degree of freedom
Degrees of freedom

Stiffness of equivalent soil spring

Horizontal (KxG1)
[2GL /(2 )](2 + 2.54 0.85 )
(lateral direction)
Horizontal (KxG2)
[2GL /(1 )](0.73 + 1.54 0.75 ) [0.2 /(0.75 )]GL[1 ( B / L)]
(longitudinal direction)
where = Ab / 4 L2 , Ab is the area of the foundation considered; B and L are half width and half
length of a rectangular foundation, respectively; G is shear modulus of soil and is the Poissons ratio
of soil.


Pile-Soil modelling

Pile is modelled by an elastic beam column element having 6 degrees of freedom at

each node which is further meshed into 20 divisions in vertical direction. Beams on
Winkler foundation (BWF) modelling approach is followed to model the pile-soil
action under horizontally applied dynamic loading. Soil springs are assumed to be
linear and lateral stiffness of such discrete horizontal springs is calculated following
Makris and Gazetas (1992) as given below,
k x = 1.2Es

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where kx and Es are lateral spring stiffness exerted by projected contact area of soil
and Youngs modulus of soil respectively. The variation of Es is considered uniform
throughout the depth in the present study. Stiffness of vertical springs connected to
pile nodes except the end node is calculated from shaft frictional resistance of soil and
pile, while, stiffness of vertical spring connected to tip of pile is calculated from
bearing capacity of pile. The stiffness of vertical spring is calculated by:
K vertical = cu d
and the stiffness of vertical spring connected to the pile tip node which takes care of
the end bearing action of the pile can be given by:
K endbearing = N c c u d
where = adhesion factor of soil, cu = cohesion adjacent to the pile tip and average
cohesion near the pile surface which is used to calculate the vertical spring stiffness of
pile, d=diameter of pile, Nc = bearing capacity factor. Finite element modelling of the
whole system, i.e., soil-pile raft-structure system is presented in FIG.1. Further,
details of pile and soil characteristics assumed for deterministic SSI analysis is
presented in Table 2.
Table 2. Pile and Soil data for the deterministic analysis
Pile data


Pile diameter, d (m)

Pile length, L (m)
Youngs modulus of pile, Ep (KN/m2)
Poissons ratio of concrete
Section modulus, Z (m3)
Flexural strength of pile, Fy (KN/m2)
Flexural moment of pile section, My (KN m)

21.78 106

Soil data
Soil consistency
Undrained cohesion, cu (KN/m2)
SPT N value
sat (KN/m3)
Youngs modulus, Es (KN/m2)
Poissons ratio


Very soft, Soft, Moderately stiff

9.80,14.50, 35.00
1, 3, 6
2500, 5000,15000

Ground Motion

Sinusoidal motions having frequency equivalent to the fundamental natural frequency

of soil-pile raft-structure system is applied to the support of the structure in both
deterministic and probabilistic SSI analysis. Amplitude of motion is assumed as
0.02g. In case of fixed base systems, frequency of input motions is considered as
fundamental natural frequency of fixed base system. In fact, the fundamental natural
frequency of the considered structural system is selected as frequency of input motion
in present study in order to simulate the resonating response of the system. Since, past
case studies related to failure of pile supported structure in soft soil during past
earthquakes indicated the detrimental effect of SSI highlighting resonating condition.

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FIG. 1. Idealization of soil-pile raft-structure modeling.

Hence, present study considered a sinusoidal motion in a simplistic way in order to
obtain maximum response of the system considering such exceptional condition
which may occur during an earthquake vibration. The response parameters are
presented in normalized form to understand the effect of soil variability along with
effect of SSI.


Roy and Dutta (2010) reported that consideration of 5% of critical damping in each
mode of combined structure-foundation and soil system overestimates the response of
system marginally. Further, it has been also suggested that consideration of 5% of
material damping of soil medium could be a realistic assumption for understanding
the behavior of pile-foundation system (Velez et al., 1984). Therefore, 5% critical
damping in each mode is considered for the present study regardless of structural
support condition.


In-situ variability of soil is modelled in present study by random variations of soil

properties along with depth. The property variations of in-situ soil are considered by
mean value, coefficient of variation (COV) which influences the likely parameters for
design. Youngs modulus (Es) and undrained cohesion (cu) are considered as random
variables and assumed to follow lognormal distribution represented by parameter
mean Es or cu and (COV)Es and (COV)cu . Use of lognormal distribution is

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appropriate as the soil properties are non-negative and the distribution has a simple
relationship with normal distribution as suggested by Haldar and Babu (2008). The
values of COVs equal to 20%, 30% and 50% are considered for both Es and cu in the
present study. The range of values is selected based on the typical range for COVs of
shear strength (10%-50%) as suggested by Phoon and Kulhway (1999). However, the
soil parameters used in deterministic analysis is considered as same as the mean
value. The in-situ variability of soil is incorporated in the analysis using random
variations of stiffness of soil (Es) and undrained cohesion (cu), which are subsequently
used for estimation soil spring stiffnesses attached to pile and raft . Finally, MCS is
performed to generate sample realisations for soil stiffness considering a particular
COV and for each set of soil spring stiffness. Dynamic analysis is carried out in time
domain using finite element model considering soil and pile as elastic. Dynamic
characteristics and responses of the system are obtained for three different conditions:
(a) under fixed base condition which is considered as deterministic analysis, (b)
response from deterministic SSI analysis and (c) mean of the response obtained from
probabilistic analysis using MCS. Based on the responses, effect of in-situ variability
of soil properties on seismic response of a soil-pile raft-structure system is examined.


A parametric study considering different period of structure supported by pile group

embedded in various consistencies of clay deposit is attempted. Pile spacing (S) to
diameter (d) ratio (S/d) is kept constant to be 3 for L/d = 60. A detailed scheme for all
case studies is summarized in Table 3. For all the cases, dynamic analysis for
deterministic SSI and fixed base condition of the structure is performed to obtain the
Table 3: Details of case studies
Subsoil Condition


Very soft




Moderate stiff



Tfixed (sec)

Raft thickness
(krs= 1.0)



group designed
(m m)


10 10












5.1 Evaluation of sample size for MCS

A convergence study is performed to select the number of sample realizations for
MCS analysis. Mean value of fundamental period of the structure incorporating SSI
( Tssi ) in sec is obtained from MCS for different number of trials considering COV =
20%. Structure having fixed base period of 0.40 sec embedded in very soft clay with
Ep/Es = 10000 is considered to evaluate the sample size. It is found that the variation
of results is marginal beyond 200 samples. Hence, 200 number of sample sizes is
adopted in the present study for carrying out the MCS analysis.

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5.2 Determination of probability distribution for system responses

Results for fundamental period of structure incorporating SSI (Tssi) in sec, shear force
at pile (VB,pile)ssi, is presented using histogram and which is superimposed with known
probability density functions as shown in FIG. 3. Best fit distribution curve is
obtained on the basis of standard error of the mean ( ) and standard deviation ( )
for the data set of given response parameter. It is observe that normal distribution is
found to be a best fit for Tssi with a value of and of 0.00433392 and 0.0030761
respectively. The COV for output Tssi parameter is found to be in order of 7.2% in
contrast to input COV of 20%. Similarly, shear force at pile head follows the
lognormal distribution.


Tssi (sec)


FIG. 3. Histogram of response parameters (a) Tssi in sec (b) (VB,pile)ssi ,(c) (M,pile)ssi
and (d) ( ,pile)ssi along with distribution fitting for structure having Tfixed = 0.40
sec in very soft soil, pile group of 3 3, S/d = 3, L/d = 60 with COV(%) = 20.
5.3 Effect of in-situ variability of soil on fundamental period of structure
The effect of in-situ variability of soil is studied on fundamental period of structure
for different Ep/Es ratios representing very soft, soft and moderately stiff soil. A
SDOF structure with Tfixed = 2.0 sec is selected to observe the effect of in-situ
variations of soil stiffness for the selected Ep/Es ratios. FIG. 4 presents the normalized
period of structure attributing SSI and fixed-base condition as a function of different
COV(%). Two normalized periods, i.e., (Tfixed/Tssi) and (Tssi(mean)/Tssi) are representing
deterministic and probabilistic response parameter which are presented in order to
assess the effect of variability of soil stiffness. Lateral period of structure
incorporating SSI is calculated considering two different conditions, such as (a) mean
of Tssi obtained from MCS (Tssi(mean)), and (b) Tssi for deterministic soil stiffness. It is
observed that the deterministic values of normalized period (i.e. Tfixed/Tssi) exhibits
marginal variation for change in Ep/Es ratio of 10,000, 5,000 and 1500 respectively.
On the other hand, a significant increase in lengthening of period for different Ep/Es
ratio is observed while considering the variability of soil stiffness which is presented
in terms of Tssi(mean)/Tssi . For instance, in case of Ep/Es=10,000 (i.e. very soft clay), the
value of Tssi(mean)/Tssi attains a maximum value of around 1.2 for COV of 20% which

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is around 20% higher than the deterministic prediction. However, this increase
remains unchanged for COV of 30% and 50%, respectively which indicates that the
effect of increase in level of uncertainty on response is marginal. However, the effect
of soil stiffness variability is also evidenced for other two Ep/Es ratios i.e., 5000 and
1500. The results indicates that variability in soil stiffness has a considerable effect on
predicting dynamic characteristics of the system which may cause an underestimation
or overestimation of forces in structures supported on piled raft foundation as
compare to deterministic SSI condition. In fact, such effect is found to vary with
variation of Ep/Es ratios. It is observed that in case of higher Ep/Es ratio, the
lengthening of period incorporating SSI may be high, while for lower Ep/Es ratio
indicating moderately stiff soil, such effect is subdued.

Tssi (mean) / Tssi

Ep /Es = 10000

Normalized Time Period



Ep/Es = 5000


Ep/Es = 1500
Tfixed / Tssi

Ep /Es = 10000, 5000, 1500






FIG. 4. Variation of normalized period for structure having Tfixed =2.0 sec with
respect to different values of COV(%) of stiffness of soil and Ep/Es ratio of pile.
5.4 Effect of in-situ variability of soil on base shear
The effect of in-situ variability of soil stiffness on shear force at column and pile is
examined by plotting two subsets of graphs presented in FIG. 5 highlighting
normalized shear at column and pile for different Ep/Es ratios as a function of COV
(%) of stiffness of soil. Deterministic and probabilistic results on normalized shear
force at column and pile are presented in similar manner as discussed in previous
section. It is observed from FIG. 5(a) and (b) that the influence of SSI considering
deterministic analysis on column shear is marginal, while, such influence is found to
be significant in case of shear force transferred to pile head. For instance, the value of
normalized shear at column [(VB,col)ssi/(VB)fixed] in FIG. 5(a) is observe to be 1 and the
value of normalized shear at pile head [(VB,pile)ssi/(VB)fixed] in FIG. 5(b) is found to be
nearly 2.4 irrespective of Ep/Es ratio. On the other hand, the probabilistic normalized
shear at column [(VB,col)ssi(mean)/ (VB)fixed] and pile head [(VB,pile)ssi(mean)/ (VB)fixed] with
respect to different COV (%) presented in FIG. 5(a) and (b) exhibits a different
picture. It is observed that shear force at column may be increased due to
incorporation of in-situ soil variability effect and may go upto within a range of 2.8 to
4.0 times depending on Ep/Es ratio of pile group as compared to what is obtained

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under fixed base condition. However, the effect of in-situ variability of soil may
significantly reduce the shear force transferred to pile head as compared to fixed base
condition which indicates that incorporation of deterministic SSI parameter may
overestimate the response. It is observed from FIG. 5(a) and (b) that incorporation of
SSI with a deterministic analysis may not give correct prediction of response in
column and pile member during seismic event. Moreover, it is also observed that the
effect of soil in-situ variability considerably varies with Ep/Es ratio of pile.




(VB,col )ssi (mean) / (VB,col)ssi

Ep/Es = 1500

Ep /Es = 10000

(VB)fixed / (VB,col )ssi

Ep/Es = 5000
Normalized Shear at Pile head

Normalized Shear at Column

(VB)fixed / (VB,pile )ssi



(VB,pile )ssi (mean) / (VB,pile)ssi

Ep/Es = 1500


Ep/Es = 5000


Ep /Es = 10000, 5000, 1500

Ep /Es = 10000











FIG. 5. Variation of normalized shear force at column and pile head for
structure Tfixed = 2.0 sec and different Ep / Es ratio with respect to COV(%) of
stiffness of soil: (a) and (b) presents normalization made with respect to SSI
This limited study indicates that the effect of in-situ variability of soil may have an
implication in seismic design of load resisting elements of heavy structures supported
on piled raft foundation. It is observed that shear force at column significantly
increased due to consideration of soil inherent variability and may even lead to failure
of the structure which may be a serious limitation of deterministic SSI analysis.
However, shear force at pile head obtained from probabilistic analysis yields a
subdued value compared to shear obtained from deterministic SSI which indicates
over safe design of pile. Hence, present study indicates a possibility of
underestimation of design forces in superstructure elements and overestimation in
foundation which may be the possible reason of failure of structures supported on
piled foundation during past earthquakes. Further, it is also observed that the effect of
soil variability is a function of Ep/Es ratio of pile. This limited study shows the
importance of reliability based design for piled raft supported heavy structures with
an emphasis to carry out a detailed study in this direction.

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