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Ir. Arnold Van Acker, Belgium
1. Basic design principles
Every construction material and system has its own characteristics which to a greater or lesser extend influence the layout, span length, construction depth, stability system, etc. This is also the case for precast concrete, not only in comparison to steel, wood and masonry structures, but also with respect to cast insitu concrete. Theoretically, all joints between the precast units could be made in such a way that the completed precast structure has the same monolithic concept as a cast in-situ one. However, this is a wrong approach and one, which is very labour intensive and costly. If the full advantages of precast concrete are to be realised, the structure should be conceived according to its specific design philosophy: long spans, appropriate stability concept, simple details, etc. Designers should from the very outset of the project consider the possibilities, restrictions and advantages of precast concrete, its detailing, manufacture, transport, erection and serviceability stages before completing a design in precast concrete.
2. Precast building systems
2.1. Frame and skeletal systems Portal frame and skeletal systems consist of linear elements (beams, columns) of different shapes and sizes, combined to form the skeleton of a building. They are very suitable for buildings, which need a high degree of flexibility. This is mainly because of the possibility to use large spans and to achieve open spaces without interfering walls. There are two basic types: The portal frame, consisting of columns and roof beams, and used for single-storey retail warehousing and industrial manufacturing facilities. The skeletal structure, consisting of columns, beams and slabs for low to medium-rise buildings with a small number of walls for high rise. Skeletal frames are used chiefly for commercial buildings, offices and car parks, but sometimes also for apartment buildings. 2.1.1. Portal frames The basic components of a single portal frame consist of two columns and a roof beam. The columns are clamped into the foundations and function as moment resisting cantilevers. The beam is simply supported on the columns with pin connections. In this way a stable portal frame is realized, able to take up both vertical and horizontal actions. The total skeleton of the building is composed of a series of basic portal frames placed at a certain distance between each other.
Fig. 1 Precast portal frame systems There exist several variant solutions with regard to types of beams, use of primary and secondary roof beams, roof elements, shed roofs, etc. It is also possible to insert intermediate floors in some parts of the building or over the whole surface. This is commonly achieved by adding a separate beam/column assembly to carry the intermediate floor slabs.
It offers the possibility to change at a later stage the interior layout without major costs. lift shafts. stair and elevator shafts. or by specially developed hidden connection details.2. both for individual housing and for apartments. Fig. The precast walls can be load bearing or only partition walls. The surface of the elements is smooth on both sides and ready for painting or wall papering. Precast wall systems are mostly used in domestic construction. acoustic insulation and fire resistance.2. massive slab floors. The trend is to build free open spaces between the load-bearing walls. from which five main types can be distinguished: hollow core floors. Prestressed hollow core floor slabs are by far the most common types of floor slabs in this type of structure.2 Wall frame systems Precast walls are used for internal and external walls. The market at present offers a large variety of precast floor and roof systems. L-shaped or inverted T-beams. The solution can be considered as the industrialized form of cast in-situ walls or classical brick or block masonry walls. The structural frame is commonly composed of rectangular columns going over one or more storeys. composite floor-plate floors and composite beam-and-bloc floors. and to use light partition walls for the internal layout. and floor slabs.3 Floor structures Precast floors belong to the oldest precast products. Skeletal structures Multi-storey precast concrete skeletal structures are constructed with columns and beams of different shapes and sizes. Precast walls offer the advantage of speed of construction.1. 2 Precast skeletal frame structure 2. The . smooth surface finishing. The beams are normally rectangular. 3 Example of a combined wall frame and skeletal structure 2. The system is widely used for multi-storey buildings up to 20 storeys and above. which means that the architect is free to design the project according to the requirements of the client. Fig. central cores etc. Modern systems belong to the so-called open construction technique. They are single span beams. ribbed soffit floors. simply supported and pin-connected to the columns or concrete corbels.
. flat soffit. The elements are available in different depths to satisfy the various performance needs for span and loading.300 200 . apartments. which are totally cast at the plant.4 . After erection. Hollow core floors are often used for large spans and moderate loading.8 .300 600 1. and economy. span (m) 9 Structural depth (mm) 100 . Totally precast floors are composed of units. like in offices.0 7 100 .4.550 200 2.600 0. Both parts are working together at the final stage to achieve the composite structural capacity.5 6 100 . The edges of the units are profiled to ensure adequate vertical shear transfer across the grouted joint between adjacent units. etc. car parks. absence of scaffolding.4.600 1.800 2400 2. Partially precast floors are composed of a precast part and a cast in-situ part. a. Max.4 Table 1 Indication of the sizes and weights of the main types of precast floors.0 . The main advantages are reduced self-weight. The units are normally 1200 mm wide and up to 18 m long.4. large span capacity. Hollow core floors Prestressed hollow core units have longitudinal cores of which the main purpose is to reduce the weight of the floor.5 . Precast floors can also be classified according to their manufacture into totally and partially precast floors. The main totally precast floor and roof types are described hereafter.1200 Unit weight (kN/m²) 2.0 . high performances and industrialized production process.principal advantages of precast floors are speed of construction.3.2.8 24 (30) 200 . The percentage void (volume of voids to total volume of solid slab of equal depth) for HC slabs is between 30% and 50%.7 . the units are connected to the structure and the longitudinal joints are grouted.3.200 600 .0 .5.250 300 .0 Floor type Reinforcement Reinforced and prestressed hollow core elements Prestressed hollow core elements Prestressed double-T elements Prestressed inverted-U elements Reinforced and prestressed massive slab Composite floor-plate floors Beam and bloc floors 20 120 .300 Most common width(mm) 300 .8 7 200 .2400 2. In some cases a cast in-situ structural topping screed is added.0 9 150 . large variety of types.
c. Both reinforced and prestressed massive slabs are used. Normally these components are prestressed. Concrete roof elements Concrete roof elements are mainly used for industrial and commercial buildings. The main features of the elements are: Light weight due to slender cross-sections Large spans Smooth soffit Typical cross-sections of concrete roof elements are shown in Figure 6. thus reducing the number of units to be fixed on site. Ribbed floors Double-T units usually comprise two ribs joined by a top plate. These units have excellent stability and load-bearing capacity offering a long span unit. Massive slab floors Massive slab units are often made in lightweight or in cellular concrete. allowing spans up to 22 m.b. 4 Concrete roof elements d. folded plates. able to carry relatively high loads. to reduce self-weight and improve the thermal properties. sport halls etc. an in-situ reinforced concrete structural topping is normally required to ensure both vertical shear transfer between adjacent units and horizontal diaphragm action in the floor. Precast massive slab units are also manufactured in normal concrete. There are different types of elements such as ribbed units. Inverted U-elements are usually 600 mm wide. They are mainly used in housing and for roofs of industrial and commercial buildings. . single or double wing-elements etc. The main advantages in using this type of floor units are: Load bearing capacity in combination with large spans The ends of the units can be notched to form a halving joint to reduce the overall depth Double-T units are manufactured as standard up to 2400 mm wide (actually 2390 mm) or 3000 mm wide. Fig. Normally these components are prestressed. Where units with a shallow flange depth (40/50 mm) are used. The overall depth of "Double T" units can vary between 150 mm and 800 mm.4.
In the solution with projecting reinforcement. for example at both ends of a long and narrow building with a central core. projecting reinforcement and bolting. Pocket foundation Projecting reinforcement Bolted connection Fig. In the case of pockets. There are three possible solutions to realize moment fixed connections between precast columns and foundations: pockets.3. the foundation bolts are fixed into steel angles. Infill masonry walls and steel cross bracing are also used. horizontal stability may be provided by the cantilever action of the columns. projecting bars from the foundation are fixed into grouted openings in the columns. They are normally continuous for the full height of the structure. are easy to erect. In the bolted connection. and may be integrated with the beam-column system as either infill walls or cantilever walls or boxes.1 Moment resisting foundations For buildings up to 3 or 4 storeys. grout or concrete is placed in the annulus between the column and inside face of the pocket. braced systems are the most effective solution. cast in the column. irrespective of the number of storeys. and protected with grout.2 Braced structures For multi-storey skeleton structures. . Precast concrete shear walls have large in-plane stiffness and strength. Shear walls are also often used to complement the horizontal stiffening action of cores. or where cores are placed in an eccentrical position. 5 Moment resisting connections between precast columns and foundations 3. The horizontal stiffness is provided by staircases. Structural stability 3. elevator shafts and shear walls The concentration of all horizontal actions to some selected members permits smaller columns and simpler connections. 6 Shear walls are needed to balance the torsion induced by the eccentric position of the core. Shear walls Floor diaphragms Core Fig.
3 Diaphragm action In precast buildings. for regions non-affected by earthquake.15 N/mm². 8 Waved profile of hollow core slab edge In precast floors with TT-units without structural topping. A possible solution to omit topping is to realize the shear transfer in the longitudinal joints by a continuous wave profile. . The shear stress. calculated on the effective depth of the joint is seldom critical. By definition. In earthquake zones. It is advisable to limit the design value of the average horizontal shear stress in the longitudinal joints between hollow core units to 0. because of their edge profile and the grouting of the longitudinal joints between adjacent units. but the units must be restrained from moving apart. The structural central core. However the inconvenience is its complementary weight. The precast concrete floors or roofs are designed to function as a deep horizontal beam. To resist these forces.3. horizontal loads from wind or other actions are usually transmitted to the stabilizing elements by the diaphragm action of the roofs and floors. to the vertical stabilizing components. 7 Force distribution in floor diaphragm Floors made of hollow core units are very appropriate to act as diaphragm. shear transfer between the elements is secured by bars welded to plates fully anchored in the units. or with the aid of a cast in-situ reinforced concrete topping. Fig. diaphragm action of the entire floor is achieved either through adequate connections between the floor units. The solution enables to absorb large deformations during the reversal load cycles without degradation of the joint. the usual system to assure diaphragm action with hollow core floors is a structural topping over the whole floor area. so that hollow core floors normally provide sufficient diaphragm action without a structural topping. of which one of the principal functions is to transfer horizontal forces acting on different places of the structure. diaphragms are flat horizontal structures. shear walls or other stabilizing components act as supports for this analogous beam with the lateral loads being transmitted to them (Figure 7). Fig.
It is generally used for precast facades of buildings. Volumes. At that time concrete was a new material. Architectural concrete is still frequently applied today. architectural concrete cladding can be designed as loadbearing or non load-bearing. sculptural ornaments. Gropius. on offer now are finishing types such as reconstructed natural stone. The application of concrete as a facade material dates back to the twenties. Not only the structural properties but also the rough appearance of the concrete itself appealed to the architects at that time The break-true of the modern architectural concrete is situated in the sixties and based on important innovations and progress in concrete technology. with a width of 1. However. and simulated natural stone finishing. shape and surface finishing.50 to 7. They were generally dimensioned for one storey height. facades in architectural concrete were composed of large series of identical precast elements.20 m. moulding techniques and surface finishing. Instead of exposing the internal concrete structure by water washing. The most common structural systems are described hereafter. variety of finishes. the complete façade remained fairly flat and also the box shape of the building was mostly kept because of the search for series at the manufacture of the units. Another phenomenon in the evolution of architectural concrete was the so-called neo-classical and postmodernistic style. Aalto and others. polished concrete and brick or stone veneering. facades in architectural concrete were designed as an entity. etc. education and cultural buildings. 4. . durability. For each building.1 Concept of architectural facades In the first period. combination of different materials. at the appearance of Modernism under the impulse of great architects like Le Corbusier. which are intended to contribute to the esthetical expression of the construction. which was introduced in the eighties by some famous architects like Boffil. ornamental details etc. 4. Box shaped buildings with facades composed of the same basic elements were abandoned and the design now focuses the total concept of the façade. offices. the facing elements were designed differently. sandblasting or other techniques used in the past. already fully in use in civil engineering works. Nuñez and others. In the eighties. either simple skin or double skin. commercial buildings. a complete change in the architectural concept took place: in stead of spending all attention to single elements. Architectural concrete facades The term "Architectural Concrete" refers to precast concrete of high quality with respect to strength. The style and technique is a continuation of the trends initiated during the last decades of the previous century: total façade concept. The facades are characterised by monumental design. surfaces. Also the employed materials exhibit a strong evolution. and numerous examples exists of masterworks from this period. reconstructed natural stone.2 Structural systems Depending on their function within the building. It is mainly used for facades of all sorts of buildings: apartments.4. lines and differences in level became increasingly important.
In the second case the façade is supporting itself and the elements are only anchored horizontally to the structure.b.1. Non load-bearing facades Non load-bearing facades fulfil only an enclosing function. 4. Non bearing façade Self bearing facade Fig. Sandwich units are composed of two concrete leaves with a thermal insulation in-between.3 Twin skin façade It concerns a sandwich facade construction in which the two concrete leaves. 10 Principle of self bearing and non bearing facades 4. They can be executed as sandwich units.e. They can also contribute to the horizontal stability of the building. The load bearing leaf of the facade consists of simple framed panels placed with the smooth moulded side towards the interior of the building. The most classical example is the sandwich façade (Figure 9. Load-bearing facades Load-bearing facades support the vertical loads from the floors and the structure above. i.2. an airtight joint sealing is applied and the insulation layer is attached to the exterior face of the framed panels. In the first case the exterior columns or beams and floors of the building structure support the self-weight of the cladding elements. Non load bearing sandwich elements are generally used in skeleton structures or for sidewalls of load-bearing facades. The inner layer carries the weight of the floor and the above facade. It can be made in precast concrete or in another cladding material. . In a following step. Another possibility is to precast only the interior skin of the spandrel beam and to finish it on site with brick masonry or any other added finishing material. Single skin elements are mostly used for facings of columns. the inside leaf and the outside leaf.2. the shape of the units can be designed without any restrictions. with the exterior cladding in architectural concrete. The precast floor units are supported on these elements.a).4. 9 Load-bearing facades in architectural concrete The facade can also be composed of load bearing spandrel panels as shown in Figure 9.2. Finally the exterior cladding is erected. either individually. or they can be self-bearing. are fabricated separately and erected separately. In principle. spandrel panels etc. The units are fixed to the structure of the building. Sandwich frame elements Load-bearing spandrel elements Fig. transferring vertical loads to columns. Here the spandrel elements act like beams.2.
The outlook of the facade can be totally different from one building to another. 11 Principle of the twin skin façade system The solution offers several advantages over the classical sandwich panels: Large flexibility in the design of the exterior facade. shape and materials used. but housing might also need to be more adaptable in the future. A handicap of the solution is that it needs more individual precast units. The insulation is continuous over the facade without any single weak thermal point. storage capacity. Optimum use of materials: Each construction material possesses specific properties and optimum applications. e. transport. cornices. 5. all precast components can be made in architectural concrete when needed. string courses. central cores. inclusive at the panel joints. Competition between different construction materials and systems is more and more judged in terms of performances and costs. which means more handling. For example create maximum exploitation capacity of the available building space by using more slender building components like in slim floor structures etc. floors with decorative underneath profiles.g. As a matter of fact. The internal panels are rectangular storey-high elements with a large repetition.load-bearing internal skin thermal insulation exterior cladding Fig. parapets. Until recently. Possibility to use other materials for the exterior cladding The precast units are simple. polished stairs etc. special columns in large entrance halls. Flexibility in use: Certain types of buildings are frequently required to be adaptable to the user’s needs. The joint pattern in the facade is unobtrusive. it is merely compensated by the more simple production of the individual units. without major difference in the interior structure and used elements. Complete freedom with respect to size. The most suitable solution to this effect is to create a large free internal space without any restriction to possible subdivisions with partition walls. the structure of a building was mostly built in the same material. The exterior cladding is mostly made of flat panels. However.4 Special elements Architectural concrete can also be used for decorative purposes inside buildings. Systems offering more floor area inside the building volume are increasingly competitive. internal walls. This is especially the case with offices. The connections are very simple. the . 4. suspended decorative ceilings. Tendencies in precast concrete Structural efficiency: The ideas here are to design structures and develop systems so that the building offers maximum efficiency to the user. The facade comprises a ventilated cavity between the exterior cladding and the insulation.2. plinths. Now. balcony units. connections etc. There exist numerous examples of such realizations.
In Europe. projects are getting more complex. buildings systems such as mixed structures. facade: 30 to 60 years. The design concept should facilitate such renovations. The initial concept of the entire building will therefore have to take account of the life span of the different components of the building: load bearing structure: up to 100 years and more. Several precasting companies have already obtained the ISO-9000 label. recovering of packaging. after 30 to 50 years. services: 20 years. recycling of waste. automation. Possible solutions lie not only within the classical advantages related to working conditions. Preserving the environment is becoming globally increasingly important. This will become expensive when "nature" is added as the third market-determining factor with the full cost required to be paid. traffic problems and many other inconveniences. waste dumping. ground pollution by chemicals. . major modifications. and a lot of work is being done in the field of European Standardisation. an office building becomes less attractive for renting. noise and dust. comfort and aesthetics is becoming more important. service integrated products and others. It is expected that more severe restraints will be imposed in construction. without demolition of the rest of the structure. Today. dust. energy consumption etc. Speed of construction: Because of the slowness of traditional in-situ construction methods. the demand for a speedy return on investment is becoming more and more important: the decision to start the work is postponed until the last moment. e. Consequently everything apart of the main structure should be designed replaceable and renewable within the normal building life to avoid early termination. manufacturing technology. but also in new developments of materials such as high performance and self-compacting concrete. etc. Not only do the quality of materials and execution have to respond to higher standards than before. some governments are already imposing regulations as regards the disposal of plastic. and the owner will look for renovation. Adaptability: In the future. technology and speed of construction.g. Periodic refurbishment. 6. which is not in favour of short construction delays. On the other hand. but also the quality in the domain as regards user friendliness. there will be much less demolition of entire buildings and more demands to adapt older buildings to the new market requirements.tendency is to use a combination of different construction materials that are best suited for the particular function within the project. The principal reasons for this attitude will be the high costs for demolition due to regulations regarding noise. with respect to emissivity of materials. One of the solutions taken by the general contractor is to put more responsibilities on precasters. long construction delays have been accepted. for example getting a more modern façade for his building. Protection of the environment: in many countries the design of buildings and structures continues to be determined solely by the factors of "capital" and "labour" employed by ecologically unregulated market economies. In addition. Quality consciousness: Quality has a broad meaning. replacements and improvements throughout the building life shall be possible. shortage of raw materials. but the initially agreed construction delay has to be met. Conclusion Prefabrication has a great potential to respond to new market demands.
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