This site is old and the information may be incorrect. Please check the new website here

Building Taxonomy

How is it of relevance?

It is a very comprehensive global classification scheme for buildings, able to capture all different building types that exist around the globe, and  it is accompanied by tools that allow you to easily work with the building taxonomy.

It is being used as a basis for the global exposure database and the global consequences database, as well as by the inventory data capture tools, for adding new information on buildings to the OpenQuake platform. But it can be used beyond GEM; it facilitates global collaboration and growth of our joint knowledge on the diversity of seismic vulnerability of all the buildings that exist around the globe.

Who is developing it?

The project is led by Charles Scawthorn and Svetlana Brzev. They have a few fixed collaborators such as Andrew Charleson, Luke Allen, Marjorie Green’s team of the EERI World Housing Encyclopedia and Kishor Jaiswal. Many other experts, structural engineers and others from around the globe have also contributed to the shaping and development of the taxonomy. See also the Building Taxonomy page on GEM Nexus.

See below the list of contributors to the Glossary and the GEM-EERI Building Reports.

The Taxonomy in a nutshell

In addition to being a scheme for classification of buildings worldwide, the GEM Building Taxonomy also allows for creation of a unique description (code) for a building or building typology, based on the 13 different attributes that correspond to specific building characteristics which affect its seismic performance.

The GEM Building Taxonomy consists of:

  • 13 main attributes (described in an overview table)
  • the different various building characteristics that can be chosen for each attribute (described in 13 attribute-related tables)
  • a glossary defining all attributes and building characteristics and illustrating them with pictures and images where possible.

The Building Taxonomy ‘genome’:

  1. Direction – the orientation of building(s) with different lateral load-resisting systems in two principal horizontal directions of the building plan which are perpendicular to one another
  2. Material of the lateral load-resisting system - e.g. "masonry" or "wood"
  3. Lateral load-resisting system - the structural system that provides resistance against horizontal earthquake forces through vertical and horizontal components, e.g. "wall", "moment frame", etc.
  4. Height -  building height above ground in terms of the number of storeys (e.g. a  building is 3-storey high); this attribute also includes information on the number of basements (if present) and the ground slope
  5. Date of construction or retrofit - the year in which the building construction or retrofit was completed
  6. Occupancy - the type of activity (function) that the building is used for
  7. Building position within a block - the position of a building within a block of buildings (e.g. a "detached building" is not attached to any other building)
  8. Shape of the building plan - e.g. L-shape, rectangular shape, etc.
  9. Structural irregularity - features of a building's structural arrangement that are irregular; such as one story is significantly higher than other stories, or the building has an irregular shape. Also the change of the structural system or materials that produce known vulnerability during an earthquake fall into this category. Re-entrant corner and soft storey are examples.
  10. Exterior walls - material of exterior walls (building enclosure), e.g. "masonry", "glass", etc.
  11. Roof - this attribute describes the roof shape, material of the roof covering, structural system supporting the roof covering, and the roof-wall connection. For example, the roof shape may be "pitched with gable ends", roof covering could be "tile", and the roof system may be "wooden roof structure with light infill or covering".
  12. Floor - describes the floor material, floor system type, and floor-wall connection. For example, the floor material may be "concrete", and the floor system may be "cast in-place beamless reinforced concrete slab".
  13. Foundation - that part of the construction where the base of the building meets the ground. The foundation transmits loads from the building to the underlying soil. For example, a shallow foundation supports walls and columns in a building for hard soil conditions, and a deep foundation needs to be provided for buildings located in soft soil areas.

What are its characteristics?

  1. Collapsible. A taxonomy is collapsible if taxonomic groups with different levels of details and significance can be combined and/or compacted and the resulting combinations still distinguish differences in seismic performance, while acknowledging some loss of precision.
  2. Detailed. The taxonomy includes all features relevant to the seismic performance of a building located anywhere in the world. It aims to capture all aspects of seismic performance and estimation of possible losses for an entire building, including building dimensions and non-structural components.
  3. Distinguishes differences in seismic performance. The taxonomy distinguishes earthquake-resistant structural systems from non-earthquake resistant systems, including the “before” and “after” states of common seismic retrofits and between “ductile" and "non-ductile” systems.
  4. Flexible and extensible.  All future data needs can’t be foreseen, so the taxonomy lends itself to changes and future extensions – i.e., be ‘growable’, attributes can be modified or added, for example to include new building typologies, and new attributes or characteristics can be added for example to facilitate use in a multi-hazard context.
  5. International in scope. As far as possible the taxonomy is made appropriate for any region of the world. It does not privilege any one region but aims to be technically and culturally acceptable to all regions.
  6. User-friendly. The taxonomy is meant to be straightforward, intuitive, and as easy to use as possible by both those collecting data, those arranging for its analysis and all end users.

The Glossary

The team has developed an online glossary which explains more than 380 terms contained in the GEM Building Taxonomy v 2.0, where possible supported by photos or illustrations - over 600 in total. The terms are listed in alphabetical order. Alternatively, any term can be accessed by clicking on its name listed in a taxonomy table. There is a taxonomy table for each of 13 main attribute of the GEM Building Taxonomy, and these can be accessed through the Building Taxonomy page on GEM Nexus

The technical report together with a PDF version of the Glossary are now available here.

Your feedback and photos

We look forward to your comments and suggestions! You can add comments below each glossary term. We also welcome contributions in terms of the photographs illustrating glossary terms. For more information on how to contribute visit the GEM Building Taxonomy Working Group in Nexus or write to the GEM Building Taxonomy team at

Files and Images of GEM Glossary are released under the terms of Creative Commons Attributon 3.0 Unported license CC-BY. This is a license that fits with the spirit of this collaborative effort, and allows others to build on your contribution.

How is it different?

This taxonomy is different from the majority of existing structural taxonomies used for seismic risk assessments; it is seen as the Next Generation Taxonomy (NGT) by its developers. The taxonomy data model is in line with modern Building Information Modelling (BIM) approaches and tools which are being used in the construction industry.

How can I use it?

You can access the latest (preliminary) version of the GEM Building Taxonomy on GEM Nexus and use the Glossary.

GEM Building Taxonomy

  • Click here for the overview table of the GEM Building Taxonomy (V2). From here you can click on to the 13 sub-tables and the Glossary for definitions of each characteristic. 
  • Click here for the latest (draft) report of the GEM Building Taxonomy.
  • Download the TaxT tool from the sidebar to immediately work with the Building Taxonomy

GEM Building Taxonomy Glossary

  • Click here for the main page of the Glossary providing access to 380 definitions

How can I contribute?

  • Create and share Building Reports of buildings near you
  • Provide feedback on the latest version of the GEM Building Taxonomy Report
  • Provide feedback on Glossary definitions
  • Send in photos and other illustrations to improve the Glossary

Ready to contribute?

To contribute to the GEM Building Taxonomy read the Photo Contribution Guideline and follow these simple instructions.


Who have contributed so far?


GEM-EERI Building Reports

Afghanistan Amit Kumar Pakistan Jitendra Bothara
Algeria Saliha Aitmesbah    
  Mohammed Farsi   Raja Saeed
Argentina Francisco Crisafulli   Najia Siddiqui
Barbedos Greg Parris  Peru Nicole Tarque
Bhutan Dago Zangmo  Portugal Rita Bento
Brasil Wallace Novaes    Tiago Ferreira

Manya Deyanova 


Mário Marques


Svetlana Brzev   Vitor Silva

Central Asia

EMCA-group   Mauro Monteiro
Chile Maximiliano Astroza   J.A.R Mendes da Silva
  Gian Carlo Giuliano   Ana Simões
  Ofelia Moroni   Carlos Sousa Oliveira
China Grace Fok   Humberto Varum
  Baitao Sun   Romeu Vicente
Colombia Seku Catacoli Romania Maria Bostenaru
Ethiopia Bezabeh   Istvan Demeter
Germany Maria Bostenaru   Mihai-Gabrie Voinescu
  Anselm Smolka Saudi Arabia Ali Altheeb
Ghana Carlien Bou-Chedid Singapore Simon Simpson
Greece Antonios Pomonis Slovenia Marjana Lutman
  Kostas Holevas Spain Elisa Entrena 
Haiti Tim Hart   Mercedes Feriche
  Abe Lynn   Federico Salmerón
Hungary Maria Bostenaru Switzerland Maria Bostenaru
India Tanmay Dey   Tom Schacher
  Hemant B. Kaushik Tajikistan Pulat Yasunov
  BS   Jafar Niyazov
Indonesia Jitendra Bothara Thailand Chitr Lilavivat
  Hendri Muljanto Trinidad & Tobago Anthony Farrell
  Sugeng Wijanto Turkmenistan Bayramov Sadiy 
  Simon Simpson   Nodir Utashev
Iran A.S. Moghadam Uganda Eric Lehmkuhl
  Farhad Homayoun Shad United Kingdom Andre Gibbs
  M. Yekrangnia United States  
Ireland  Julie Clarke    Lauren Doyel
Italy   Giuseppe Barberio    Jeff Falero
  Prevosti    Michael Germeraad
  Gianalberto Vecchi    Sandra Hyde
Jamaica  Alfrico Adams    David Merrick
Japan Charles Scawthorn    Richard Nielsen
Kenya Kishor Jaiswal   Kyle Steuck
Kyrgystan InTUIT team    Scott Tinker
Malawi Mauro Sassu Venezuela Juan Carlos Vielma Pérez
Mexico Rene Martinez-Leon    
  Roberto Arroyo Matus    
Nepal Jitendra Bothara    
  Hemchandra Chaulagain    
  Prachand Man Pradhan    
New Zealand Jitendra Bothara    




Glossary Images

Tom Abbuhl (Canada)
B.A. Bakshi (Iran)
Andrea Benedetti (Italy)
Ben Benjamin (Haiti)
Marcial Blondet (Peru)
Jitendra Bothara (Indonesia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan)
Win Clark (New Zealand)
Mohammed Farsi (Algeria)
M.A.Ghanad (Iran)
Amit Kumar (Afghanistan)
Sarosh H.Lodi (Pakistan)
A.Mahdizadeh (Iran)
Sinisa Mihaldzic (Chile)
Maria Ofelia Moroni Yadlin (Chile)
Farzad Naeim (Iran)
Nebojsa Ojdrovic (Canada)
Muhammad Masood Rafi (Pakistan)
Antonis Pomonis (Cyprus, Greece)
Keith Porter (Nepal)
Durgesh Rai (India)
Vivek Rawal (India)
Tom Schacher (Switzerland)
Martijn Schildkamp (Nepal)
Ljubisav Stamenic (Canada, Germany, United Kingdom)
Nicola Tarque (Peru)


Many thanks to all!