Earthquake-induced structural pounding frequently causes serious damage to buildings, particularly at the expansion joint (hereafter, EXPJ) between adjacent buildings. Because the EXPJ width in existing reinforced concrete buildings is usually very small, typically about 5 cm for school buildings in Japan, collision avoidance cannot be achieved by seismic retrofitting. This paper presents an experimental investigation into an effective method for reducing severe structural damage due to pounding at the EXPJ between narrowly separated buildings. The method involves inserting a shock-absorbing material such as rubber into the EXPJ gap. The efficiency of the proposed method is evaluated by laboratory shaking tests using two model buildings. Furthermore, a lumped mass model is used to carry out a collision analysis in order to numerically investigate the influence of such a shock-absorbing material. Both the numerical and experimental results confirm the effectiveness of the proposed approach. The validity of the proposed method is also demonstrated by numerical simulation of adjacent 10-story steel buildings with an EXPJ width of 5 cm. The force, acceleration and velocity produced by earthquake-induced structural pounding are found to be remarkably mitigated by inserting a soft shock-absorbing material into the EXPJ gap. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.