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Design of Slender Columns

When a stocky column (i.e. one that is not very slender, where
slenderness is defined as the ratio between the columns height
and width) is subjected to an excessive axial load it is likely to
fail by crushing. Similarly, if a stocky column is subjected to a
critical combination of axial load and moment the mode of
failure will be by failure of the material.
When a slender column is overloaded its mode of failure is
altogether different.

e e

Consider Figure 1. The eccentricity of the load applied to the

column in Figure 1 causes a moment of M=Ne by virtue of the
loads eccentricity w.r.t. the struts centreline.

In the 2nd figure the moment applied is a function of the lateral

deflection of the column. Thus M=N(e0+e2). The lateral
deflection is itself a function of the moment. Therefore in the
second case the moment applied is not a linear function of the
applied load. Structures such as this may fail by buckling.

Design Approach
If the increase in moments due to lateral deflection of the
member is greater than 10% then the concrete codes class the
behaviour as significant and require that the additional moments
are considered in the members design.
The codes sub-divide concrete columns into two basic
categories, braced and un-braced, or sway and no-sway,
depending on how the structure is designed to resist lateral
loading. In a braced building the columns will not be required to
resist the lateral loading and hence the deflected shape of such
columns under load is,

In contrast if the column is resisting the lateral forces through

frame action then the columns displaced shape is,

Effective Length
The theoretical Euler buckling formula for a pin-joined strut is,

2 EI
= 2

Where l is the struts effective length. If the end conditions of

the strut are different then the struts buckling load can be
predicted by calculating an equivalent effective length.
le = lo
The theoretical effective length is given below for some end
Fixed Fixed
Pined Pined
Fixed Free

le = 0.5 lo
le = 1.0 lo
le = 2.0 lo

More generally the effective length is the distance between the

points of contra-flexure. However, the codes give simplified
guidance on appropriate values for both braced,

and unbraced columns

Where the end condition definitions are as follows

1 Depth of beam monolithically connected to the column is
greater than or equal to the column depth
2 Depth of the beam or slab monolithically connected to the
column is less than the column depth
3 Nominal restraint between beams and column, eg. Beam
detailed as simply supported
4 Top of cantilever in sway structure

Slenderness Ratio
In BS 8110 the stiffness of a column is assessed depending on
its slenderness ratio, which is defined as


the effective length divided by the column depth, or wall

thickness in the case of a slender wall. A typical column will
have two slenderness ratios
x = ex
y =

where b is the column breadth.

BS8110 Defines columns as short i.e. dont need to be

designed for buckling if
max 10
max 15

for unbraced columns

for braced columns

EC2 - Radius of Gyration

The Euro code uses the radius of gyration





Using the radius of gyration rather than the section depth to

assess slenderness has the advantage that it can be used with
non-rectangular sections.

Design of Slender Columns

Slender columns must be designed for the additional moments
due to lateral displacement. The lateral displacement is a
function depends on the end conditions of the columns and the
end moments applied.

The design must establish the deflected shape at failure.

Unfortunately neither elastic analysis nor plastic analysis is
really appropriate. The Code approach is based on a simplified
procedure to estimate the member curvature.
A minimum eccentricity emin should always be assumed to
allow for construction errors. emin = 0.05h but should not be
taken as less than 20mm.

Calculation of additional moment

The additional moment is a function of the columns lateral
displacement. The method proposed in the Code attempts to
model the load deflection relationship. The code aims to
predict the mid-height deflection at which failure of the concrete
The shape of the curvature is assumed, and the central deflection
au is assumed to be given by

2 1
au = le

where 1


is the curvature. The curvature will typically vary

along the column and the Code assumes a sinusoidal value of
1 2 . Thus au the central lateral deflection is assumed to be

1 2 1
au = 2 le

Calculate 1/r
The column curvature (1/r) is calculated by considering the M-N

At the balanced point the compressive strain in the concrete is at
its maximum and the tensile strain in the steel is at its yield point


The local curvature corresponding to this distribution of strain is

given by

0.0035 + yd

In contrast the local curvature for the hypothetical case of a

column under axial load only, ultimate axial load Nuz, is zero.
If the maximum curvature is assumed to vary linearly between
1 and 1 then for any load N the curvature can be
expressed as,
1 = K 1 where K = N uz N but not greater than 1.
N uz N bal
au = a Kh

a = 0.0005 e = 0.0052
M add = Nau

Design Moments
Braced Column
A reasonable estimate of the moment at mid height due to
external end moments M1, M2 , where M 2 M 1
Mi = 0.6M2 + 0.4 M1 not less than 0.4M2
Therefore by referring to the figures shown earlier the design
moment Mmax is the greatest of

M1 + 0.5 Madd
Mi + Madd

Unbraced Column
In the un-braced case the Mmax is the greater of
M2 + Madd

Iterative Procedure

Assume K=1
Calculate Mmax
Find area of steel needed for Mmax and N
If Mmax not based on Madd the design is OK
Else recalculate K
If K is not close to assumed K recalculate Mmax