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Elastic, Shrinkage and Creep Effects upon Tall Structures during
the Construction Period and Beyond.
J.G.Worsnop B.Eng., MBA, C.Eng., MICE, MiStructE
The drive to build tall structures has traditionally been to provide large facilities
where land availability is limited. In developed areas where the price of potential
development sites is high and availability few, tall buildings provide an excellent
In recent times tall buildings have been used more as a symbol of a nation’s economic
development and this is no where more evident than in the Middle East. Dubai in the
United Arab Emirates lead the way with the Burj Al Arab, the tallest hotel in the
world at 321metres high, framed by reinforced concrete core and dividing walls. More
recently one of the Emirates Towers has surpassed this heady height.
Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, traditionally a city of low-rise buildings sees the horizon
pierced by two massive monuments. The tallest, at 295metres, will be the Kingdom
Trade Center, an office, hotel and residential facility, now under construction and due
for completion in late 2001. On the 14
May 2000, the Al Faisaliah Tower will open
as the first skyscraper in Saudi Arabia, at over 260 metres high.
The Middle East has developed industries upon the use of concrete as its primary
building material and steelwork remains an imported product and less prevalent.
Unlike steel, concrete shortens with age, firstly as drying shrinkage, then secondly as
creep under long term loads. A third aspect is its elastic behaviour which varies whilst
the concrete is in its infancy.
As concrete structures rise above 100 – 150 metres the study of the three becomes an
essential part of the design and construction process. However this detail of design
can only be carried out with the cooperation of the contractor since programming of
the works is a primary input into the assessment.
Buildings move as in response to changes imposed upon them. The imposition of
wind loads, live loads, temperature or moisture fluctuations occur during the life of
the building and are generally short lived. These assessments of these can be made
within the design stage.
This paper considers the movements due to drying shrinkage, creep and elastic
shortening during the construction period and beyond. The assessment traverses the
design and construction periods as each of the strains are time dependent.
Elastic shortening is the deformation from an applied load and is instantaneous at the
time of application. Further deformation from the residual stress in the concrete
occurs over the following months and years and is considered as creep.
Concrete is an inelastic material and its modulus of elasticity depends upon the age of
the concrete, its strength and the applied stress. Fortuitously, the stress – strain
relationship may be considered linear at low stresses, if all other parameters are equal.
The British Standards suggest that when the stress to ultimate stress ratio is below
0.33 a linear relationship exists. The American Code suggests a maximum ratio of 0.4
to be appropriate. These values lie within the limits of construction loads.
Drying shrinkage starts the moment the concrete begins its hardening process and
continues to a decreasing effect over the following 30 years. The effect is caused by
the evaporation of water from the concrete and is irreversible. The initial loss of free
water causes very little volume change to the concrete, but as drying continues, the
absorbed water evaporates and changes the unrestrained hydrated cement paste.
Consequently, the proportion of cement will influence the degree of volume change,
the greater the cement content, the larger the shrinkage of the element.
The timing of shrinkage deformation also depends upon the ability of the structural
element to give up the absorbed water. The volume to surface area of the concrete
specimen will determine the speed at which shrinkage takes place, thicker sections
being slower than thin elements. Also the humidity at the concrete surface influences
the time taken for water to be given up through evaporation. High temperatures,
winds over the surface and dry atmospheres will encourage the transpiration of water
and hence speed the shrinkage process.
Creep is the increase in strain under a sustained stress. It commences at the time of
loading and its rate of deformation is greatest in the early period, decreasing over the
longer term. The stress within the concrete element is directly proportional to the
creep strain. However, the strength of the concrete also influences the eventual strain.
Concrete of higher strengths exhibit higher modulus of elasticity and lower strains.
But as the strength takes time to reach its peak so too does its modulus of elasticity.
Therefore loading of a concrete member shows greater deformation in the early
Similar to shrinkage, creep is a function of the volumetric content of cement paste in
the concrete, the role of the aggregates is that of restraint. The degree of restraint is
influenced greatest by the modulus of elasticity of the aggregates. The greater the
modulus the greater the restraint and hence the smaller the creep strain.
The magnitudes of elastic, shrinkage and creep movements of the total structure may
be considered as both time and event dependent. The rate of overall deformation
occurs early and predominately within the construction period. Elastic strain is driven
by events, for example, each time a higher level floor is applied there is an
instantaneous load increase and thus movement. Beyond the construction completion
date only strains from operational or live loads are imposed.
Shrinkage of an individual concrete member is driven by time initiated as the concrete
starts to harden. The rate of shortening is greatest in the first few months, declining to
less than 20% beyond the construction period.
Creep is dependent upon both event and time. As the construction event progresses,
new loads are applied which start a new time dependant movement. Similar to
shrinkage the rate is greatest in the concrete’s infancy, i.e. during the construction
In late 1993 the King Faisal Foundation, an Islamic philanthropic organisation in
Saudi Arabia commissioned Architects Sir Norman Foster and Partners, and
Consulting Engineers Buro Happold from the United Kingdom, as a joint design
venture to develop a mixed use facility in Olaya, a business district of Riyadh. The Al
Faisaliah Center would feature a landmark office tower, a 224 bedroom, a five star
hotel, residential accommodation, a retail mall, banqueting facilities, car parking,
landscaping and associateed infrastructure. The jewel of the development was the
Tower, but the project can boasts many other state of the art achievements.
It was at the Al Faisaliah Centre, Riyadh, where Buro Happold Consulting Engineers,
joined with the local contractor, Saudi Bin Laden, to analyse the movements of the
structure, taking full account of the construction sequence. The information generated
was planned finalise such considerations as preseting the formwork, cladding joints,
second order bending in beams and jointing in the vertical pipework.
The Al Faisaliah Tower is the landmark feature of the development, which soars
above the surrounding city. Saudi Arabia’s first sky scraper has recently been ‘topped
out’ with a stainless steel finial, 30 months after pouring the 6000 m3 concrete
foundation, the largest pour in the region.
Through those 30 months the concrete structure has been progressively loaded with 1
giga-newton of permanent weight, compressing its own columns and walls. Coupled
with deformation as the concrete shrinks the building has shortened by 150mm,
although 2/3 of this has been compensated for within the construction process.
The Tower is square on plan with a central reinforced concrete core forming a central
spine throughout its height. The core is the primary lateral load stability system and
occupies 25% of the floor plate. It also accounts for approximately 80% of the gross
cross-sectional area of concrete available to carry the vertical loads, yet carries only
approximately 65%.
At the top of the Tower, the core continues upward through the observation sphere
and gives support to a light weight steel mast structure which also gains support from
the corner columns.
The floor plates are single span concrete ribbed slabs supported at the core and at the
façade column/beam structure. The slabs are pre-tensioned to limit their floor depth
and minimise the building’s weight.
The façade structure tapers as it rises with the 4 No. corner columns running
continuously throughout the height of the building. Between the corners, smaller
cross-sectional area perimeter columns are positioned at 9 metre centres which collect
the load of each floor plate from the perimeter beam and slab. In order to keep their
size small, 400-600mm diameter, these columns are stacked for a maximum of 11
storeys. Each of the stacks are supported by macro frames which are in turn supported
by the corner columns. The ’k’ brace macro frames consist of reinforced concrete top
chords, post-tensioned concrete bottom chords, with the diagonals fabricated from
grade 50 steel rectangular sections.
Only the corner columns and the cores extend to the 4 metres deep monolithic
foundation which had been cast upon the underlying rock strata.
Each of the vertical load carrying components, the core and columns are imposed with
different stresses and these impose short and long deformations. It is important to
predict the movement of the concrete structure through the construction period and
make a final assessment of the 30 year position.
The process must establish the parameters for which the study is being undertaken. In
a tall structure there are a vast number of vertical elements and the management of
each component of shortening increases with the number of floors, the number of
elements and the periods when deformation is required to be known.
At Al Faisaliah the analysis identified the following considerations:
• The Main Contractor required the magnitude of the presets for each floor plate.
The core concrete was under lower stresses from permanent loads than the corner
and perimeter columns. The consequence was that the perimeter would droop
relative to the central core so the differential deflection would determine the preset
level. It was important that the levels moved within the specified tolerance bounds
between Contract Completion and the 30 years condition. It is worth noting that
some floors were consciously cast outside the tolerances, knowing that during the
construction period the movement would satisfy the overall objective.
• The resulting differential movement between corner columns and first internal
columns induced secondary moments into the connecting perimeter beams. As the
corner columns taper inwards the beams become shorter, inducing greater
moments. The predicted differentials were required for each to ensure that
adequate reinforcement had been provided.
• The connection of the corner columns at the concrete steel interface was designed
for compression in the short term and tension resulting from the 30 year
shortening of the concrete below. The long term redistribution of loads was a
concern for the whole of the upper steel mast structure.
• The cladding contractor required information about the relative movement
between floors in order to design an adequate joint. The cladding system extended
between each of the ’K’ braces, and the top chords were considered as the relative
hard spot where floor movement would be greatest.
• The cladding contractor also required the differential movement between the
corner column and the first internal façade column. The corner columns were
highly stressed and susceptible to shortening. In comparison the internal columns
under the ‘K’ braces had little stress and consequently no shortening. The
resulting large differential movement created warping in the panel which needed
to be accommodated.
• The mechanical service engineers were interested in the shortening of the vertical
service duct in order to set the pipework joints. It was realised that as the Tower
compressed the joints in the pipework would constricted. As chilled water flowed
the joints would expand as the pipework contracted. Continued compression of the
Tower would again close the pipework joints. The final scenario to be considered
was a potential maintenance problem when the chilled water would be drained,
causing the pipework to expand and the joints to constricted further. The see-
sawing of joint movement had to be accommodated within very small tolerances.
The consequence of a joint failure implies 300 000 litres of chilled water
cascading down the Tower.
• Although not encountered on the Al Faisaliah Tower, cladding difficulties can
arise when a core forms part of the façade. The junction with a higher stressed
column is worthy of consideration.
Each tall building will have its own areas for consideration and these will be found in
zones where there are abrupt discontinuities in the building structure. As engineering
strives to accommodate modern architecture these regions of discontinuity become
numerous and investigation essential.
The reference used in the calculations for the Al Faisaliah Study followed the
recommendations of British Standard, “Structural Use of Concrete”, BS8110 Part 2
Section 7. The manipulation and summing of all the individual shortenings were
managed through a matrix spreadsheet. Separate calculations including bending
deflections were undertaken upon the ‘K’ brace to find the cumulative effects.
For the Al Faisaliah Tower Study, four main types of vertical structural elements were
• The core
• The corner columns
• The inner perimeter columns ( spacing at 9 metres)
• The outer perimeter columns (varying spacing from the corner columns)
For each of the elements at each floor level the cross sectional area was calculated and
its height above datum defined.
The loading was separated into three categories per floor level, the self weight of the
concrete construction, the superimposed dead load, including finishes and the
superimposed live load. For plant room areas the superimposed live load (equipment
weights) were assigned to the superimposed dead load so that the long term effects
were considered. Creep effects were not deemed appropriate upon the superimposed
live load due to their short term nature, but plant room loads are long term and creep
needed to be included within the calculation.
Against each of the three loads for each floor and for each vertical structural member
a programme date was assigned. All the superimposed live loads were given the
Construction Completion date. The construction dates were monitored and significant
deviations resulted in rerunning the matrices and new movement profiles generated.
The loads, programme dates, cross sectional areas and heights above datum were
inputted into 4 matrices, one for each vertical structural element. Each matrix had a
‘Defined Date” for which it would calculate each incremental deformation at each
floor. In order to determine the deformations with time the ‘Define Date’ was changed
and the matrix rerun.
The strain for the elastic, shrinkage and creep are calculated within the matrices. As
discussed previously, these are time dependant and equations have been generated
with age as the underlying parameter.
The instantaneous elastic shortening is dependant upon the 28 day characteristic
strength of concrete and corresponding Modulus of Elasticity. These vary with time
and the formulae allow for a linear rate of increase within the first 12 months and a
constant value beyond.
The British Standard tabulates shrinkage strain values for varying thickness of
elements exposed to different humidity climates. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has a very dry
atmosphere and the concrete under consideration is behind cladding in the final state,
therefore ‘indoor exposure’ was chosen as the appropriate climatic condition.
Three member thickness, 150mm, 300mm and 600mm, have tabulated strain values
and these were converted to ‘best fit’ hyperbolic equations. The 30 year values were
used for the upper strain values and the 6 month value was used to ensure an accurate
value during construction.
The British Standard graphically estimates the creep coefficient for ambient relative
humidity, age of loading and section thickness. Again ‘indoor exposure’, equivalent to
45% relative humidity was taken and section thickness 600mm assumed. From valves
at 28 day, 90 day and 365 day intervals, a ‘best fit’ hyperbolic equation was generated
to determine the coefficient at a specified time of loading. With the time dependent
modulus of elasticity and creep coefficient, the creep strain was determined.
The difference between the ‘Date Load Applied’ and the ‘Date Concrete Cast’ defines
the age of the concrete and the loaded period can be determined from the difference
from the ‘Defined Date’. These allow the calculation of the appropriate elastic,
shrinkage and creep strains for each load case and resulting deformation. The study
considered deformation at 3 month intervals and the final 30 year case.
Concrete structures are cast to level therefore the deformation that has occurred prior
to casting is compensated for. It was therefore necessary to find the movement at the
date of casting each floor level and deducted from the quarterly figures.
The resulting movements were presented both graphically and within a table for the
design of the presets, cladding, beams and pipework.
The typical information generated within the Al Faisaliah Study is shown in the table
TABLE FOR LEVELS 17, 18 & 19
End of 30 year
Contract M'ment
Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q1
Level 19
98 98 98 99 99 99 99 0 0 28
Core 0.00 0.00 0.00 6.59 18.59 25.32 31.22 37.08 44.31 74.41
Corner 0.00 0.00 0.00 15.76 45.82 55.44 63.04 71.44 82.37 125.97
Out. Perimeter 0.00 0.00 0.00 22.89 43.29 52.22 60.51 67.86 78.91 120.92
Int. Perimeter 0.00 0.00 0.00 25.64 46.43 55.70 64.95 72.60 84.86 129.08
Level 18
Core 0.00 0.00 0.00 7.80 19.36 25.89 31.63 37.30 44.34 73.44
Corner 0.00 0.00 0.00 16.03 44.48 53.81 61.15 69.24 79.82 121.79
Out. Perimeter 0.00 0.00 0.00 22.35 42.50 51.23 59.08 66.25 76.92 117.40
Int. Perimeter 0.00 0.00 0.00 25.12 45.60 54.62 63.27 70.69 82.39 124.74
Level 17
Core 0.00 0.00 0.00 8.88 20.00 26.34 31.90 37.38 44.23 72.31
Corner 0.00 0.00 0.00 16.20 43.04 52.07 59.16 66.92 77.14 117.48
Out. Perimeter 0.00 0.00 0.00 22.03 41.97 50.53 58.04 65.04 75.39 114.56
Int. Perimeter 0.00 0.00 0.00 24.76 44.99 53.80 61.98 69.20 80.43 121.20
Corner column
Inner Perimeter Column
Outer Perimeter Column
Headline information figures are:
• The largest movement over the life of the building is 154mm in a façade
column .
• The largest core movement is 85mm
• The largest difference between core and the façade is 70mm
With the long term deformations calculated and combined with bending deflections of
the ‘K’ braces the presets for the concrete floors were determined. A final table was
issued to the construction and design team identifying the predicted levels for the four
vertical structural elements at:
Structural Slab Level Design
Concrete Cast Level
Cladding Fixing Level (assumed date of fixing)
Contract End Level
30 Year Level
The information then allowed the detailed design and fabrication of the subsequent
building components and their fixings, taking account of the continuing movement of
the concrete frame.