Masonry Carries the Load

by Daniel P. Abrams, (M.ASCE), Prof.; Civ. Engrg. Dept., Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1993, Vol. 63, Issue 2, Pg. 66-67

Document Type: Feature article


Engineers frequently have preconceived notions about building materials. Masonry, for example, is commonly selected by architects for its color and texture, rather than by engineers for its stiffness or strength. Many modern buildings consist of a structural steel frame to carry gravity loads, unreinforced concrete masonry infill panels within the steel frame to provide isolation against sound and weather, and an unreinforced brick veneer to serve as an aesthetically pleasing skin. The brick, which is sometimes referred to as a 4 in. thick coating of paint, usually has a compressive strength sufficient to resist all of the gravity loads, but its structural properties are neglected all together in lieu of the steel frame. The concrete block infill may have a lateral stiffness many times that of the steel frame, but again it is not considered as a structural element. In short, masonry is sometimes ignored as a load-bearing material during design. As a result, engineers may be overdesigning those buildings that include masonry. But by considering masonry as a structural material vis a vis steel, engineers have the potential to reduce design costs. Four case histories (three laboratory experiments and one instrumented structure that survived the Loma Prieta earthquake) show that masonry has structural, load-bearing capability, and indicate that there may be life after cracking for unreinforced masonry structural elements.

Subject Headings: Masonry | Steel frames | Steel structures | Load factors | Concrete frames | Gravity loads | Structural steel | Stiffening | Construction materials

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