Why do buildings collapse suddenly following the loss of one of its elements?

General Press Releases Wednesday August 24, 2016 13:29
Bangkok--24 Aug--Asian Institute of Technology

Recall the 9-11 disaster when the Twin Towers collapsed after being struck by aeroplanes. Or the 22-storey 1968 Ronan Point Building in the United Kingdom which witnessed a partial collapse following a gas explosion at one corner of the building. Such situations have drawn increased attention in recent years, and they were the focus of the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT)'s Sixth Distinguished Adjunct Faculty (DAF) Seminar delivered by Prof. Sashi Kunnath on 22 August 2016.

Titled "Progressive Collapse Analysis of Reinforced Concrete Frame Buildings following Sudden Column Loss," Prof. Sashi's lecture illustrated the mechanics of failure in structural building systems due to the sudden loss of a load-bearing element. Citing the case of the Ronan Point building, he stated that a lady's simple act of igniting a match for preparing a cup of tea caused a gas explosion triggering the partial collapse of the building. The building had just been inaugurated, and the accident led to an investigation on how a mishap at one section can trigger larger damage.

The Ronan Point accident also heralded changes in legislation, even as people raised questions about the stability of tall structures. This has led to interest in what is now known as the "progressive collapse analysis" of buildings. Prof. Sashi described the phenomenon as a situation where a local failure of a primary structural component leads to the collapse of an adjoining member, which, in turn, leads to additional collapse.

This was the Sixth DAF Seminar organized at AIT. Prof. Sashi is an AIT alumnus (Master's in Structural Engineering and Construction, 1982), and he is currently serving as Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California at Davis (UCD). He has previously served as Department Chair from 2009–2015. Prior to studying at AIT, he received his undergraduate degree from Bangalore University, India; and he followed it with a PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

Earlier, Prof. Sashi was introduced by Prof. Pennung Warnitchai of AIT's School of Engineering and Technology (SET), and Mr. Surendra Shrestha, AIT's Vice President for Development.

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