Collapse of masonry structures

Masonry structures have demonstrated the ability to withstand large displacements and remain stable to a remarkable degree. For structures with a single curvature (e.g. barrel vaults), which can be readily simplified to two dimensions, stability under large support displacement has been well described using analytical and experimental methods. Structures with double curvature, however, have typically been simplified to two-dimensions in a similar fashion, despite their truly three-dimensional behavior.

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In this paper, the three-dimensional mechanisms formed during large support displacements of doubly curved vaulted masonry structures are investigated using experimental and computational models. The study focuses on three aspects: 1) evaluation of three-dimensional mechanisms, 2) determination of the displacement magnitudes that lead to collapse, and 3) evaluation of the ability of computational methods to predict the experimental results. Typical groin and quadripartite vaults are considered.

In the Block Lab, a state-of-the-art testing facility, the collapse of accurate 3D-printed scale vault models was introduced by precise, actuator-controlled support displacements and registered with an optical measuring system. The measured collapses were compared with Discrete Element Modeling results for equivalent support displacements.

The experimental and computational results both predict the expected large displacement capacity, and the sensitivity of the discrete element results to a variety of parameters is quantified. In addition, a more complete understanding of the stability of masonry vaults is obtained, particularly regarding the relation between support movements and three-dimensional collapse mechanisms. More generally, the research methodology introduces new, promising improvements in the analysis of complex masonry structures.

This is a collaboration with Dr. Matthew J. DeJong, Masonry & Dynamics Research Group, Engineering Department, University of Cambridge, UK.


Rossi M., Calvo Barentin C., Van Mele T. and Block P.Experimental study on the behaviour of masonry pavilion vaults on spreading supports,TBD, preparation.
Van Mele T., Calvo Barentin C. and Block P.Robotically controlled scale-model testing of masonry vault collapse using as-built geometry,Meccanica,2017.Special issue D. Addessi, K. Sab and E. Sacco (Eds.) - Innovative aspects in the Mechanics of Masonry: From theoretical to computational issues - under review.
Van Mele T., McInerney J., DeJong M. and Block P.Physical and Computational Discrete Modeling of Masonry Vault Collapse,Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Structural Analysis of Historical Constructions,Wroclaw, Poland,2012 (October).


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