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The authors are all structural engineers with

W. G. Curtin & Partners. William Curtin is a consultant to the firm. Gerry Shaw and Gary Parkinson . are partners, and John Beck is an associate.

1 The main components of a fin-walled, wide span, single-storey building.

CI/SfB (21· 11 F



This article describ s a form of construction that, a ong other applications, offers n alternative to steel or concrete- ramed construction for tall wide span,

A brick fin wall is made up f a series of connected vertical T-beam which are essentially deep narrow pi rs (the fins) built into ordinary cavity brickwork. The potential for strong modelling with the ns appeals to architects, and the use ofb ick can be an attractive and durable low aintenance alternative to a portal fra e with profiled

sheet cladding.

The critical design facto for these tall, wide span envelopes is lateral w nd loading. The vertical live and dead load are usually very light so a wind load would et up tensile forces, but the choice of fin dimen ion or simple prestressing can avoid this problem.

The fin wall can be used or retaining walls, tanks and open-plan multi- torey structures, and for building factories, arehouses, supermarkets and sports lls. Plain masonry fin walls, and prestressed nes, have been developed over the past 15 years by

W. G. Curtin & Partners a d, like the diaphragm wall, are anoth r option to what has been standard practice for many years.

Breaking with tradition

The traditional solution to he problem of how tall open envelopes are to ithstand wind pressure is to erect rigid s eel or concrete frames designed to protec the side elevation, and braced down to found tion level to withstand the lateral wind force on the gable elevation. Such framewor s need external cladding and internal linin , and these coverings require subsidia y supporting members in the form of st el cladding rails. Steelwork generally requi es relatively expensive protective coati gs to provide some durability and may someti es need nominal fire rating. The resulting 'wall needs maintenance and requires several diffe ent materials,

roof sheetin9

stopped off fin



wall panels omitted for glaZing

single-storey buildings. The authors, William Curtin, Gerry Shaw, Gary Parkinson and John Beck have developed and used the brick fin wall for the past 15 years.

subcontractors and suppliers, each of which can present a potential management problem for the main contractor.

The fin wall, however, acts as the structure and replaces the vertical steel framework on both side and gable elevations, while at the same time providing the cladding, lining, fire protection and, in some cases, the insulation. Maintenance and decoration of brickwork is minimal and it is more resistant to damage and vandalism.

The three-dimensional wall

For tall, open-plan single-storey structures, the fin wall consists of the normal cavity wall with a brick outer leaf and a brick (or concrete insulating block) inner leaf with deep narrow brick projections bonded or tied to the outer leaf at regular intervals to form a series of individual or connected T -sections, 1.

The fins are usually 1112 to 2 bricks wide (327 and 440 mm) and from 3 to 6112 bricks (665 to 1451 mm) deep, in standard brick sizes to keep cutting to a minimum. The depth depends on the height ofthe wall, the spacing of the fins and the magnitude of the

wind pressure.

The brick T-section formed by the fin and the outer leaf of the cavity wall provides the main structural member, and the inner leaf forms the internal lining. The inner leaf, across the cavity (and tied with normal cavity wall-ties to the fin wall section), is not considered a structural part of the T -except that it can provide additional stiffness to the outstanding 'flanges' (the outer leaf) of the effective section. For structural design purposes, the fin wall is considered a single T -section even if the individual Ts are joined to form a continuous wall. When the sections are joined, the resulting continuous flange must be able to span horizontally to resist the lateral loading between the fins, 13. This design criterion affects the spacing of the fins.

The fins can be positioned internally or externally. For supermarkets, sports halls and the like, they are usually placed on the external elevation, but for some factories they could be placed internally to form supports to crane gantries. For retaining walls, tanks and similar applications, the flanges (interconnecting walls between the fins) would normally be solid walls.

In multi-storey, open-plan structures,

the fins would again probably be of cavity construction, of individual T-sections to permit continuous vertical glazing and would be prestressed to enhance the fin's resistance to wind forces.

One can consider the fin as the modern equivalent of the flying buttress and analogous

AJ 14 November 1984 95

2 Foundations are normally an extension of the strip footing used below the rest of the wall. 3 A freestanding pier, a, with no restraint at the top, and subject to wind load deflects, b, with bending moment

diagram, c.

4 A pier that is propped at roof level, a, against the wind loading deflects, b, with a smaller bending moment, c, than for

figure 3c.

Sa-d Examples of fin wall styles. Sports halls at Ellesmere Port by Paterson, Macauley & Owens, aj Chester Catholic High School by the Ellis/Williams Partnership, Cj and Rudheath, d. Magistrates' court in Wrexham by Colwyn Foulkes & Associates, b.




propped deflected ++

canti- shape 8M

lever .ph


96 AJ 14 November 1984

in operation to a vertical reinforced concrete T-beam and slab.

Counting the cost

Mere 'desk study' costings can be notoriously unreliable-particularly for something new. It is the builders' price that counts. Basically the costing of a fin wall could be considered as roughly equivalent to a piered cavity wall. But for fair-faced work to both faces, scaffolding can be required on both faces. To some extent this depends on whether the bricklayer works 'overhand' from a scaffold to one side of the wall only. Local practice determines this. On the finned side, it has to be built around the fins, and each fin has four plumbing lines. This makes the final wall more expensive than the diaphragm wall (AJ 26.8.81), and can increase the cost over that of the traditional steel frame. Contractors have quickly appreciated, however, the advantages of working with only one material, built by their own closely controlled labour force. They have also realised that it can be a faster method of construction because they are not subject to delays of site starts

while the frames are being fabricated, nor are there site delays due to the late arrival of subcontractors. The projects illustrated here all had tight cost limits and were in no way prestige buildings.

No costing exercises have been made for maintenance, repair and decoration on fin walls, but it seems obvious that since masonry is a durable and robust material these should be lower than for the framed solution.

The fin wall, like the diaphragm wall and other developments, is not covered by the code of practice, so that the main application so far has been school sports halls for public

authorities which were not subject to Building Regulations approval. However, like the diaphragm wall, there is unlikely to be any problem in obtaining approval because the fin wall is a simple application of basic engineering principles, using proven materials and techniques-and there are built examples that have withstood the worst weather conditions in this country.

Construction: down to basics

In fin wall construction, the loading at foundation level tends to even out to a uniformly distributed low contact pressure, so that the normal strip footing, projected at the fin base, is more than adequate, 2. The structural designer should of course

check the bending moment applied at the base of the fin to the foundation, but this is rarely a problem.

Roof construction

To achieve maximum overall economy and minimum depth of fin, the roof structure should be designed to act as a horizontal girder. This props and ties in the top of the side, or flank, walls, transferring wind loads from them to the gables, which resist the loads as transverse sheer walls, 3, 4.

The gable walls thus provide, via the roof 'girder', a prop to the top of the side wall (and vice versa) so that all the walls act as propped rather than free cantilevers.

The roof's horizontal girder action can be provided by either diagonal bracing between the roof beams and purlins or stiffened roof sheeting, acting as a stressed skin. Profiled metal sheeting is normally adequate as a

stressed skin if properly fixed. The engineer ~ 99

6, 10 A movement joint is made between pairs of L-shaped fins_

7 It is relatively simple to arrange a post-tensioning system for the fins to counteract wind-induced tensile forces.

8 The roof can be designed to provide horizontal bracing either by making it a stressed skin construction or by bracing the purlins to form a lattice girder.

9 The fins can take many forms.

double fin


~~,---,1 '-""-""----"-"'"-

6 movement joint

rc cap- post-tensicninq

ping rod with cap-

beam ping plate


lI:llt/l H threaded V Jf7:TFT coupler

Benefit of the 'propped CU'IWHe'VtCr If the fin is a free "<nYt1l,pv,'1r' base, the maximum bendina ph/2 (wind pressure x However, if the roof is desjgned of the fin, the bending moment reduces to ph/S. The moment in the propped roughly ph/l4. Obviously

will not need such a deep cantilever, 4.

Capping padstone

A concrete padstone is fin to connect the roof Wind uplift (due to U~~'"'~''"J

can be significant and it

to strap the pads tone to (counteract) the uplift

Thermal insulation The thermal insulation is

cavity wall of all-brick ,..r.y",Ih,,,,,j'ir.n

outer leaf and insulating insulation and so on.

rr,.'_n>"r.'~T courses must be lintels above

wall construction. drawings and


Floor to ceiling openings can be formed by omitting the panel of walling between the fins. Openings can easily be formed at areas of low bending moment. Thus clerestory lighting can be inserted at the top of the wall between fins and in the areas of low bending moment in

the height of the wall. In other positions openings must be stiffened by appropriate lintels and sills, 14.

Fin details

The junction between the top of the fin and the roof may be treated in many ways. The fin can stop level with the roof, oversail it, stop and splay below it and so on.

For economy of construction, the outer edge of the fin should be vertical, but there is no structural reason why the fin should not be tapered, bevelled, stepped or even holed, 9.

Construction techniques

Direct compressive stresses in the wall and fin are low, and high strength bricks and mortar are not necessary, The criterion that dictates the required quality of the brickwork is therefore durability. Movement joints are necessary, as they are in any other form of construction, and should be spaced at a maximum of 12 m centres for clay brickwork and 6 m centres for concrete blockwork.

They are usually accommodated by the introduction of double fins with the joint between sealed, 6.

For the greatest economy, the setting out 01 the fin spacing, depth and thickness should keep the cutting of bricks to the absolute minimum.

Temporary propping

To obtain fairfaced brickwork on both sides of the wall, it is sometimes necessary to scaffold both sides and around the perimeter of the fins. The scaffolding, properly secured to the wall and cross-braced, can usually be made to provide adequate temporary propping during the vulnerable stage before erecting the

roof prop.


Post-tensioning of structural masonry is another technique which we have researched, designed and constructed, and has been helped by our experience with prestressed concrete. Protected high tensile steel rods are included in the brickwork, anchored at foundation level and torqued or jacked above to induce additional compression, 7.

The added compression is then used to counteract lateral forces (usually due to wind and retained earth) without the need for other structural frames or materials. This then permits greater architectural freedom, for example in the use of high level clerestory continuous windows and wrap-around windows at corners. It could allow open-plan multi-storey structures to be built in the technique. To carry out further advances in the technique requires research and some of our ideas and research findings have been passed to UMIST's department of civil and structural engineering which is now engaged on this work.

Basic structural concept

The fin wall is simply a vertical T-beam-an idea which is a spin-offfrom our involvement with reinforced concrete and structural timber design. Its development is best explained by examining the restrictions of the traditional (and, unfortunately, still prevalent) approach to

A.J 14 November 1984 99

Il1b Designs of Clyity wall, a, and fin wall, b, on which table I is based. 121b The tension created by wind loads -Mil lbending moment/section modulus) should not exceed the compressiYe forces due to the yertical lin and dead loads WI A, a. In taillight structures, however, W lself·weight) is small and M is large, so that the bending moment diagram could look like b. 13 If the length of wall acting as the flange of the T ·beam is excessiYe,

it will fail by buckling at the edges.

14 Openings made in areas of low bending moment.


-+ '_9-,-59 __ t

l ignore inner IeI' .


lib 327 - .. i2r . --+

100 AJ 14 November 1984

the design of structural brickwork, and the logic of the new 'engineering' approach.

The basic formula for stress under the combined action of compression and bending is: f = WIA + MIZ, where W is the structure's own weight plus vertical live loads, A is the crosssectional area, M is the bending moment and Z is the section modulus. This can produce a stress diaphragm, 8.

- In multi-storey walled structures (cross-wall, cellular, spine and so on) the compressive stress due to W is usually big enough to cancel out the tensile stresses due to the bending moment M created by the wind. But in tall single-storey structures the vertical load W is insignificant since the roof is of lightweight construction, and under wind action it is further reduced, or even eliminated, by uplift. Lateral wind pressure creates a bending moment on the wall and as the height (or 'span') ofthe fin increases,

so does the moment. Then W is relatively

small and M is relatively large, and tensile stresses occur, 12b.

The tensile resistance of brickwork is low (only about one-twentieth of its compressive resistance) and this usually presents the most critical condition in the structural design. Even low tensile stresses can be unacceptable.

Overcoming tensile stress

Traditionally tensile stress was dealt with by increasing the thickness of the wall. Sadly the code of practice for structural masonry, BS 5628: Part 1, still offers this outmoded solution.s Thickening the wall increases the area A, the section modulus, Z and slightly increases W, because of the increase in the wall's own weight. But this wastefully inefficient solution is so uneconomic that it has driven brickwork out of the structural market. No designer of structural steelwork would thicken a steel plate for this loading condition; he would use an 1- or box-section with large section modulus for little or no increase in area.

Similarly no designer in reinforced concrete would merely thicken a slab; he would use a series of T -beams. This is, in effect, the

f[] M due to wind


plan ~I


tension - I

, Mh____

-----,I~-. -'+I"'W +.=Z> 'tJ M-= t5::J +

l___'_j+A .z \ ~.~

\ A Z

compression + W M +



structural action of the fin wall. It is not a 'plate' (as is the traditional wall) but

a series of connected T -beams and, at openings, L-beams.

The benefits, discussed above, of using the roof to act as a prop so that the wall acts as a propped cantilever, greatly reduces the bending momentM in the stress formula. With low M and high Z, the stress formula results in tensile stresses so low that they are well within manageable limits (table I). (Post-tensioning

by increasing W can eliminate the tensile

stress altogether.)

Thus a normal unpropped cavity wall would have more than 40 times the tensile stress of the four-brick deep propped fin wall, see table I. Furthermore the maximum safe height of an unpropped cantilever is less than L: 5 m, whereas the propped fin shown in table I would be safe even above 10 m, depending on the amount of site wind pressure.

Struc:tural design guidance

It is simpler to design a brick fin wall than a reinforced concrete T -beam, Detailed discussion and worked examples are given in our

design guide for the BDA 3 and our book on structural masonry. 4

Graphs and examples are given below for a trial section, without the need for calculations. These have proved helpful to architects (and engineers) for determining the approximate sizes-which must be checked thoroughly-at an early stage of a project.

For trial sections we have established values for a coefficient K which relates wall height H (m), fin spacing L (m) and wind pressure W (kN/m2), so that K = WLH/8.

The graph in figure 15 gives values for K for different depths and two widths of fin built into normal 270 mm cavity brick walling.

It is important that this trial section coefficient is used only for the selection of the trial section. A thorough structural analysis must always be carried out.

• Example 1 A fin wall 10 m high with fins at

3' 8 m centres subject to a design wind pressure ~ 102

length of wall acting as flange

I I I I ! I

length of wall spanning between T beams

L_ ~13


Table I Comparison of structural properties of Clyity wall and fin wall

Wall type Cross- Second Section

(jor dimensions, sectional moment modules,

seefigure 11) area. m2 of area, m2(X 10-2) m4(X 10-9)

Stress in free cantilever, m

Stress in propped cantilever. m

Ratio of stresses in propped cantilever: fin: cavity

Cavity wall






1 1:20 1:10

Fin wall



7'5min 0'285 min 0'071 min

14'01 max 0'533max 0'133max

15 Given the height, spacing of fins and wind load on the wall, this diagram gives trial fin depths lor 440 or 327 mm wide fins. Given the fin size and wind pressure,

it can be used to find the fin spacing.

16 End and side sectional view of fin/roof junction. The castella is bolted down to a pad in the fin and built into the brick with ties welded to the beam web. 17 This graph is based on

a design wind pressure of O' 54 kN/m2 and allows trial sections of fins spaced at 3·5 m centres to be read off.

1 Structural masonry detailing by Curtin, Shaw, Beck and Parkinson. Granada. 1984.

2 BS 5628: Part 1 • Structural Use Q( W'u"nry. BSI.

3 Design Qf brick fin wa,"s in tall single-storey structures by Curtin, Shaw, Beck and Bray. BDA.

4 Structural masonry designers' manual by Curtin, Shaw, Beck and Bray. Granada.

102 AJ 14 November 1984

of 1·14 kN/m2 has a K-val e of WLHI8 = 1 ·14 x 3·8 x 10/8 = 5'415.

From the graph a 440 m wide by 1115 mm deep fin or 327 mm wide b 1339 mm deep fin could be selected.

The choice of a trial secti n can be further simplified if the spacing L f the fins is fixed and the design wind pressure is also made constant. For example, in he South-East, a common design wind pres ure is O' 54 kN/m2• If L, the spacing of the roof earns and thus the fins, is fixed at 3· 5 m, the the only variable is H, the height of the wall: = WLHI8 = 0·54 x 3·5 x HI8 = 0·24H.

Figure 17 gives the size of fins, depending on their height, for this condi ion.

• Example 2 A fin wall, w th fins at 3·5 m centres, subject to a desi wind pressure of

O' 54 kN/m2, is to be 10 m igh. From figure 17 either a 440 mm wide by 7 8 mm deep fin or a 327 mm wide by 890 mm eep fin could be selected as a trial section. :

Flexibility I

For industrial applications in particular, fin walls (as with all masonry structures) have been criticised for lacking adaptability.

This has been found in practice to be untrue and probably arises fromte appearance of permanence of masonry d the massiveness of traditional construction. xtensions to the length of a building are aCtieved almost as simply and economically a with a steel-framed shed, just by demolishing he gable and bonding

into the flank walls. i

The roof wind girder w uld be extended similarly for both building ypes. It is sometimes argued that steel framew rks can be punctured with openings between th frames more easily than the equivalent in a fi wall. However, openings between the fin can easily be formed by demolishing the conne ting wall and checking the remaining fi , s.

Spreading your fins i

There are many possible dpplications for this innovative device. Brick r~taining walls and tall





r--.J I

440 Wide fin~


I r--.J I



example 1 r+ - _.J

._._. __ ._.~._.-.


K 5 I,

I, .... __ .J:


r--.J I

665 788 890 1003 1115 1227 1339 1451

depth of fin (mm)


gable walls have been strengthened by too thing and bonding in new fins and steel-framed shedtype structures extended by bonding fins to the existing brick gable walls. There could be a wide use of reinforced or prestressed fin walls, acting like reinforced concrete counterfort retaining walls. In multi-storey open-plan structures, post-tensioned fins could eliminate the need for internal structural walling.

Once architects and engineers are familiar and experienced with the technique they are bound to produce other interesting applications. Developments are already taking place with the plain, or reinforced, arched fin.


New construction ideas are usually slow to become established, even more so since the failure of so many new methods since the war. But the logic and simplicity of a technique that uses well proven materials in structures that have performed well should allay this suspicion.

Building control authorities are likely to accept the fin wall for Building Regulations approval because it is based on sound engineering principles and uses a well tried material. Many of the fin walls have been built for public authorities. Since BS 5628, the Code of Practice for structural masonry still deals only with normal walls, it should perhaps be revised to take account of the modern approach and practical experience in brick engineering.

brick ties welded to web

ms channel edge beam bolted to castella


665 778 890 1227 1339

depth of fin (mm)