A discrete-time wave propagation formulation of the seismic response of tall buildings is introduced. The building is modeled as a layered medium, similar to a layered soil medium, and is subjected to vertically propagating seismic shear waves. Soil layers and the bedrock under the foundation are incorporated in the formulation as additional layers. Seismic response is expressed in terms of the wave travel times between the layers, and the wave reflection and transmission coefficients at the layer interfaces. The equations account for the frequency-dependent filtering effects of the foundation and floor masses. The calculation of seismic response is reduced to a pair of simple finite-difference equations for each layer, which can be solved recursively starting from the bedrock. Compared to the commonly used vibration formulation, the wave propagation formulation provides several advantages, including simplified calculations, better representation of damping, ability to account for the effects of the soil layers under the foundation, and better tools for identification and damage detection from seismic records. Examples presented show the versatility of the method. ?? 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.