This paper investigates numerically the seismic response of six seismically base-isolated (BI) 20-story reinforced concrete buildings and compares their response to that of a fixed-base (FB) building with a similar structural system above ground. Located in Berkeley, California, 2 km from the Hayward fault, the buildings are designed with a core wall that provides most of the lateral force resistance above ground. For the BI buildings, the following are investigated: two isolation systems (both implemented below a three-story basement), isolation periods equal to 4, 5, and 6 s, and two levels of flexural strength of the wall. The first isolation system combines tension-resistant friction pendulum bearings and nonlinear fluid viscous dampers (NFVDs); the second combines low-friction tension-resistant crosslinear bearings, lead-rubber bearings, and NFVDs. The designs of all buildings satisfy ASCE 7-10 requirements, except that one component of horizontal excitation, is used in the 2D nonlinear response history analysis. Analysis is performed for a set of ground motions scaled to the design earthquake and to the maximum considered earthquake (MCE). At both the design earthquake and the MCE, the FB building develops large inelastic deformations and shear forces in the wall and large floor accelerations. At the MCE, four of the BI buildings experience nominally elastic response of the wall, with floor accelerations and shear forces being 0.25 to 0.55 times those experienced by the FB building. The response of the FB and four of the BI buildings to four unscaled historical pulse-like near-fault ground motions is also studied. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.