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Design & Performance of Steel Frame Building Structures


The rise of the steel frame skyscraper during the 20th century has introduced certain problems to the building industry – but also introduced standardized solutions and standardized methods of evaluation (e.g. local and national building codes requiring a minimum standard for design and construction). The failure of the three buildings belonging to the World Trade Center on 9/11 calls into direct question some of these standards. Despite the catastrophic loads the two main building were subjected to – a steel and concrete building that meets minimum standards of construction should easily be able to withstand such damage – especially, as in the case of the WTC buildings – since they were designed to be able to absorb precisely this kind of damage. Clearly our codes or specifications must be at fault in these cases- to say nothing of the third building to collapse – upon which no stresses of any sort were exerted…

Understanding steel frame & concrete high rise construction requires requires breaking the problem down:

Understanding Structural Loads & Design

Live and Dead Loads

Most basic engineering calcluations are based on ‘live loads’ and ‘dead loads – the former consist of variable loads (i.e. people and machines that are moved in and out of spaces over the years – or accumulated snow and force due to wind, etc) and the latter are constant loads (such as structure above each floor) that are constant. Both ‘live’ and ‘dead’ loads are added, taken as a minimum design load by which ‘safety multipliers’ are added according to building codes and engineering standards.


Specifications ensure that the quality of steel fabrication and the steel subcomponents and fireproofing, etc. meet a minimum standard according to the overall design. The fasteners and connection technology of steel members are at least as important of the steel specified in the structure, since they determine how effectively forces can transfer through the structure – ulitimately supported by the bedrock foundation of a given highrise.

Vertical Loads

These are the easiest to understand forces acting on the tall building. Steel must necesarily be thicker and stronger to accomodate the increased loads at lower points in the structure. A given floor need only be strong enough (in principle) to support the floors above it – so the 50th floor in a 60 floor tower won’t require a structural frame anywhere near as strong as the lowest floors of the same tower. Of course – this isn’t the only part of the picture. Diagonal and other bracing elements/ supporting members need to be much more numerous in lower floors – as do the number and size of fasteners (i.e. bolts, hold-downs, braces, welds, etc.)

Horizontal Loads

Horizontal loads include the vertical transfer loads at horizontal joints (i.e. – at each floor or trancept) but also must take into account seismic activity and their associated loads, wind load, building settling, accidental vehicle impact, acts of terrorism, etc. Remember – a building is a semi permanent structure and must be able to sustain anything that gets ‘thrown’ at it and avoid catastrophic damage where possible. There are many ways to respond to such potential threat to buliding integrity:


Design Strategies against Catastrophic Damage (i.e. – ‘Force Protection’)

Structural Redundancy

The concept of ‘structural redundancy’ is a very common method employed in nearly all built structures. In fact, any buildings except those on a single stilt (clearly the antithesis of ‘redundant’ and is illustrative of the advantages of redundancy) have a degree of redundancy already built in. A small single family home made from common wood framing techniques has this built-in by merit of having walls composed of multiple wood studs per unit wall length. Structural failure of a single stud will be compensated for by having it’s load ‘captured’ or transferred through the existing adjacent studs. Beyond this – by providing the largest number of structural transfer pathways through a given structure, catastropic damage will very likely be sustained with little danger to the occupants for nearly all conceivable catastrophe scenarios.

Especially since the 1945 incident involving a B-25 Mitchell bomber flying directly into the Empire State Building, both codes and designers of high rises have been especially cautious about warding off such perils (see also: redundant structures, below). Despite the failures presented by the World Trade Center catastrophe – the main towers of the WTC were actually designed with such peril in mind. A building with that degree of surface area must be expertly designed with plane impacts and a rather incredible amount of wind and other loads in mind. Each of the WTC towers were actually designed expressly for the purpose of handling multiple airliner impacts

Especially with high rise structures, and their high degree of built-in redundancy – a surprising amount of the building can be destroyed or removed before the possibility of collapse will exist. In many scenarios this may involve removal of up to 80% of the exterior structure of the building. In many cases even the complete removal of the exterior facade may still find the building without threat of collapse.

Structural redundancy through exterior curtain structural elements (i.e. World Trade Center Towers) can be a highly effective strategy. In such a scenario as the WTC buildings 1 and 2 (with exterior redundant structure AND a redundant core structure), where the exterior wall is composed of a very high number of rendundant load bearing members (see diagram below). The larger the number of redundant ‘pathways – the safer the building is and can be under catastrophic circumstances.


x       x


plan diagram of wtc columns

elevation showing structural redundancy in action at the World trade center


Structural Redundancy in Action: The World Trade Center

upper left: a diagram showing the massively redundant structure that composed the exterior wall of the World Trade Center buildings 1 & 2. Note the ‘depth’ (outer face to interior wall) of the structure and the very high percentage of structural members compared to windows in this building. Compare this with the extremely high clear span to structure ratio in most commercial buildings. This building is practically a fortress.

lower left: 757 having penetrated exterior structure. Note that all exterior structural elements, except where impacted directly, remain unperturbed. The very large size of the exterior columns also absorb most of the impact of the incoming plane during failure owing to the high degree of ’embodied’ energy in the size of the columns and their joints. Notice the ‘breakaway’ design of the massive columns and joints.

x x


Design Method & Typology

The specific evolution of high rise building types, having occurred primarily from trial and error as well as case studies derived from computer and structural/numerical analysis have spawned a number of discrete types. Among these are:

Braced Frame

Braced frames are cantilevered vertical trusses resisting laterals loads primarily through the axial stiffness of the frame members. The effectiveness of the system, as characterized by a high ratio of stiffness to material quantity, is recognized for multi-storey building in the low to mid height range. Generally regarded as an exclusively steel system because the diagonal are inevitably subjected to tension for or to the other directions of lateral loading. Able to produce a laterally very stiff structure for a minimum of additional material, makes it an economical structural form for any height of buildings, up to the very tallest.

• Girders only participate minimally in the lateral bracing action-Floor framing design is independent of its level in the structure.
• Can be repetitive up the height of the building with obvious economy in design and fabrication.

• Obstruct the internal planning and the locations of the windows and doors; for this reason, braced bent are usually incorporated internally along wall and partition lines, especially around elevator, stair, and service shaft. • Diagonal connections are expensive to fabricate and erect.

Rigid Frame Structure

Consist of columns and girders joined by moment resistant connections. Lateral stiffness of a rigid frame bent depends on the bending stiffness of the columns, girders, and connection in the plane of the bents. Ideally suited for reinforced concrete buildings because of the inherent rigidity of reinforced concrete joints. Also used for steel frame buildings, but moment-resistant connections in steel tend to be costly. While rigid frame of a typical scale that serve alone to resist lateral loading have an economic height limit of about 25 stories, smaller scale rigid frames in the for of perimeter tube, or typically rigid frames in combination with shear walls or braced bents, can be economic up top much greater heights.

       • May be placed in or around the core, on the exterior, or throughout the interior of the building with minimal constraint on the planning module.
        •The frame may be architecturally exposed to express the grid like nature of the structure.
        •The spacing of the columns in a moment resisting frame can match that required for gravity framing.-Only suitable for building up to 20 –30 stories only; member proportions and materials cost become unreasonable for building higher than that.

Infilled Frame Structure

Most usual form of construction for tall buildings up to 30 stories in height Column and girder framing of reinforced concrete, or sometimes steel, is in-filled by panels of brickwork, block work, or cast-in-place concrete. Because of the in-filled serve also as external walls or internal partitions, the system is an economical way of stiffening and strengthening the structure. The complex interactive behaviour of the infill in the frame, and the rather random quality of masonry, has made it difficult to predict with accuracy the stiffness and strength of an in-filled frame.

Flat Plate and Flat Slab Structure

Is the simplest and most logical of all structural forms in that it consists of uniforms slabs, connected rigidly to supporting columns. The system, which is essentially of reinforced concrete, is very economical in having a flat soffit requiring the most uncomplicated formwork and, because of the soffit can be used as the ceiling, in creating a minimum possible floor depth.
Lateral resistance depends on the flexural stiffness of the components and their connections, with the slab corresponding to the girder of the rigid frame. Particularly appropriate for hotel and apartment construction where ceiling space is not required and where the slab may serve directly as the ceiling. Economic for spans up to about 25 ft (8m),above which drop panels can be added to create a flat-slab structure for span of up to 38 ft (12m). Suitable for building up to 25 stories height.

Shear wall structure

Concrete or masonry continuous vertical walls may serve both architecturally partitions and structurally to carry gravity and lateral loading. Very high in plane stiffness and strength make them ideally suited for bracing tall building Act as vertical cantilevers in the form of separate planar walls, and as non-planar assemblies of connected walls around elevator, stair and service shaft. well suited to hotel and residential buildings where the floor-by floor repetitive planning allow the walls to be vertically continuous and where they serve simultaneously as excellent acoustic and fire insulators between rooms and apartments. Minimum shrinkage restraint reinforcement where the wall stresses are low, which can be for a substantial portion of the wall. Tensile reinforcement for areas where tension stresses occur in walls when wind uplifts stresses exceeds gravity stresses. Compressive reinforcement with confinement ties where high compressive forces require the walls is designed as columns. Individual shear walls, say at the edge of a tall building, are design as blade walls or as columns resisting shear and bending as required. High strength concrete has enable wall thickness to be minimized, hence maximizing rentable floor space. Technology exists to pump and to place high-strength concrete at high elevation. Fire rating for service and passenger elevator shafts is achieved by simply placing concrete of a determined thickness. The need for complex bolted or side-welded steel connections is avoided. Well detail reinforce concrete will develop about twice as much damping as structural steel. This advantage where acceleration serviceability is critical limits state, or for ultimate limits state design in earthquake-prone area.

Action to be considered:
Shear wall formed around elevator and service risers requires a concentration of opening at ground level where stresses are critical. Torsional and flexural rigidity is affected significantly by the number and the size of opening around the shear walls throughout the height of the building. Shear wall vertical movements will continue throughout the life of the building.
Construction time is generally slower than for a steel frame building. The additional weight of the vertical concrete elements as compared to steel will induce a cost penalty for the foundations. An increase in mass will cause a decrease in natural frequency and hence will most likely produce an adverse affect of the acceleration response depending on the frequency range of the building. But shear wall systems are usually stiff and cause a compensating increase in natural frequency. Problem associated with formwork systems: A significant time lag will occur between footing construction and wall construction, because of the fabrication and erection on site of the moving formwork systems Time will be lost at the levels where wall are terminated or decrease in thickness, alignment of the shear walls are within tolerance. Regular survey check must be undertaken to ensure that the vertical and twist alignment of the shear walls are within tolerance. In general it is difficult to achieve a good finish from slip-form formwork systems, and hence rendering or some other type of finishing may be necessary.

Coupled wall structure

Consist of two or more shear walls in the same plane, or almost the same plane, connected at the floor levels by beam or stiff slabs. The effect of the shear-resistant connecting members is to cause the sets of wall to behave in their partly as a composite cantilever, bending about the common centroidal axis of the walls. Suited for residential construction where lateral-load resistant cross walls, which separate the apartments, consist of in-plane coupled pairs, or trios, of shear walls between which there are corridor or window openings. Besides using concrete construction, it occasionally been constructed of heavy steel plate, in the style of massive vertical plate or box girders, as part of steel frame structure.

Wall-frame structure

The walls and frame interact horizontally, especially at the top, to produce stiffer and stronger structure. The interacting wall-frame combination is appropriate for the building in the 40 –60 story range, well beyond that of rigid frames or shear walls alone. Carefully tuned structure, the shear of the frame can be made approximately uniform over the height, allowing the floor framing to be repetitive. Although the wall-frame structure is usually perceived as a concrete structural form, with shear wall and concrete frames, a steel counterpart using braced frames and steel rigid frames offers similar benefits of horizontal interaction. The braced frames behave with an overall flexural tendency to interact with the shear mode of the rigid frames.

Framed tube structure

The lateral resistant of the framed-tube structures is provided by very stiff moment-resistant frames that form a “tube” around the perimeter of the building. The basic inefficiency of the frame system for reinforced concrete buildings of more than 15 stories resulted in member proportions of prohibitive size and structural material cost premium, and thus such system were economically inviable. The frames consist of 6-12 ft (2-4m) between centers, joined by deep spandrel girders. Gravity loading is shared between the tube and interior column or walls. When lateral loading acts, the perimeter frame aligned in the direction of loading acts as the “webs” of the massive tube of the cantilever, and those normal to the direction of the loading act as the “flanges”. The tube form was developed originally for building of rectangular plan, and probably it’s most efficient use in that shape.

• Suitable for reinforced concrete and steel construction and has been used for building ranging from 40 to more than 100 stories. • Aesthetically, the tube externally evident form is regarded with mixed enthusiasm; some praise the logic of clearly expressed structure while other criticizes the grid like façade as small-windowed and uninterestingly repetitious. • Depending on the height and dimensions of the building, exterior columns spacing should be in order of 1.5 m to 4.5 m on center maximum. • Spandrel beam depths for normal office or residential occupancy application are typically 600 mm to 1200 mm.
• Frame tube in structural steel requires welding of the beam-column joint to develop rigidity and continuity. The formation of fabricated tree elements, where all welding is performed in the shop in a horizontal position, has made the steel frame tube system more practical and efficient. The 110 story World Trade Center twin towers, New York are examples whereby the structuralist notion of a punched wall tube with extremely close exterior columns is architecturally exploited to express visually the inherent verticality of the high rise building.

The trussed tube

The trussed tube system represents a classic solution for a tube uniquely suited to the qualities and character of structural steel. Interconnect all exterior columns to form a rigid box, which can resist lateral shears by axial in its members rather than through flexure. Introducing a minimum number of diagonals on each façade and making the diagonal intersect at the same point at the corner column. The system is tubular in that the fascia diagonals not only form a truss in the plane, but also interact with the trusses on the perpendicular faces to affect the tubular behaviour. This creates the x form between corner columns on each façade.Relatively broad column spacing can resulted large clear spaces for windows, a particular characteristic of steel buildings. The façade digitalisation serves to equalize the gravity loads of the exterior columns that give a significant impact on the exterior architecture.

Tube in tube or Hull core structure

This var ation of the framed tube consists of an outer frame tube, the “Hull,” together with an internal elevator and service core. The Hull and core act jointly in resisting both gravity and lateral loading. The outer framed tube and the inner core interact horizontally as the shear and flexural components of a wall-frame structure, with the benefit of increased lateral stiffness. The structural tube usually adopts a highly dominant role because of its much greater structural depth.

Bundled tube structure

The concept allows for wider column spacing in the tubular walls than would be possible with only the exterior frame tube form. The spacing which make it possible to place interior frame lines without seriously compromising interior space planning.
The ability to modulate the cells vertically can create a powerful vocabulary for a variety of dynamic shapes therefore offers great latitude in architectural planning of a tall building.

Core and Outriggers system

Outrigger serve to reduce the overturning moment in the core that would otherwise act as a pure cantilever, and to transfer the reduced moment to columns outside the core by the way of tension-compression coupled, which take advantage of the increase moment arm between these columns.It also serves to reduce the critical connection where the mast is stepped to the keel beam.In high-rise building this same benefit is realized by a reduction of the base core over-turning moments and the associated reduction in the potential core uplift forces.In the foundations system, this core and outrigger system can lead to the need for the following:The addition of expensive and labour-intensive rock anchors to an otherwise “simple” foundation alternative such as spread footing. Greatly enlarged mat dimensions and depth solely to resist overturning forces. Time-consuming and costly rock sockets for caisson systems along with the need to develop reinforcement throughout the complete caisson depth. Expensive and intensive field work connection at the interface between core and the foundation. This connection can become particularly troublesome when one considers the difference in construction tolerances between foundations and core structure. The elimination from consideration of foundation systems which might have been nsiderably less expensive, such as pile, solely for their inability to resist significant uplift.

• The outrigger systems may be formed in any combination of steel, concrete, or composite construction.
• Core overturning moments and their associated induced deformation can be reduced through the “reverse” moment applied to the core at each outrigger intersection. • This moment is created by the force couple at the exterior columns to which the outrigger connect. • It can potentially increase the effective depth of the structural system from the core only to almost the complete building. • Significant reduction and possibly the complete elimination of uplift and net tension forces throughout the column and the foundation systems.• The exterior column spacing is not driven by structural considerations and can easily mesh with aesthetic and functional considerations. Exterior framing can consist of “simple” beam and column framing without the need for rigid-frame-type connections, resulting in economies. For rectangular buildings, outriggers can engage the middle columns on the long faces of the building under the application of wind loads in the more critical direction. • In core-alone and tubular systems, these columns which carry significant gravity load are either not incorporated or under utilized. • In some cases, outrigger systems can efficiently incorporate almost every gravity column into lateral load resisting system, leading to significant economies.

The most significant drawback with use of outrigger systems is their potential interference with occupiable and rentable space. This obstacle can be minimized or in some cases eliminate by incorporation of any of the following approaches:
• Locating outrigger in mechanical and interstitial levels
• Locating outriggers in the natural sloping lines of the building profile
• Incorporating multilevel single diagonal outriggers to minimize the member?s interference on any single level.
• Skewing and offsetting outriggers in order to mesh with the functional layout of the floor space.
• Another potential drawback is the impact the outrigger installation can have on the erection process. As a typical building erection proceeds, the repetitive nature of the structural framing and the reduction in member sizes generally result in a learning curve which can speed the process along.
• The incorporation of a outrigger at intermediate or upper levels can, if not approached properly, have a negative impact on the erection process. Several steps can be taken to minimize this possibility Provide clear and concise erection guidelines in the contract documents so that the erector can anticipate the constraint and limitation that the installation will impose.
• If possible, avoid outriggers locations or design constraints that will require “backtracking” in the construction process to install or connect the outrigger.

• The incorporation of intermediate outriggers in concrete construction or large variation in dead-load column stresses between the core and the exterior can in some cases result in the need to “backtrack”. Such a need can be minimized if issues such as creep and differential shortening are carefully studied during the design process to minimize their impact.
• Avoid adding additional outrigger levels for borderline force or deflection control.

Hybrid structure

Combination of two or even more of basic structural forms either by direct combination or by adopting different forms in different parts of the structure. This systems provide in-plane stiffness, its lack of Torsional stiffness requires that additional measures be taken, which resulted in one bay vertical exterior bracing and a number of level of perimeter Vierendeel “bandages” –perhaps one of the best examples of the art of structural engineering. Hybrid structures are likely to be the rule rather than the exception for future very tall buildings, whether to create acceptable dynamic characteristics or to accommodate the complex shapes demanded by modern architecture. High-strength concrete, consist of stiffness and damping capabilities of large concrete elements are combined with the lightness and constructability of steel frame exhibits significantly lower creep and shrinkage and is therefore more readily accommodated in a hybrid frame.



Skyscraper Design and Construction (wikipedia)

Study of Structural Redundancy of High Rise Steel Building Due to the Effect of Heat and Loss of Vertical Structural Members (PDF)

Project Management for Skyscraper Construction

Effects of Damage and Redundancy on Structural Performance

Understanding High Rise Structures

Why Buildings Stand Up

Why Buildings Fall Down


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