Fundamental principles of structural behaviour under thermal effects

Asif Usmani, Michael Rotter, S. Lamont, A. M. Sanad, Martin Gillie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents theoretical descriptions of the key phenomena that govern the behaviour of composite framed structures in fire. These descriptions have been developed in parallel with large scale computational work undertaken as a part of a research project (The DETR-PIT Project, Behaviour of steel framed structures under fire conditions) to model the full-scale fire tests on a composite steel framed structure at Cardington (UK). Behaviour of composite structures in fire has long been understood to be dominated by the effects of strength loss caused by thermal degradation, and that large deflections and runaway resulting from the action of imposed loading on a 'weakened' structure. Thus 'strength' and 'loads' are quite generally believed to be the key factors determining structural response (fundamentally no different from ambient behaviour). The new understanding produced from the aforementioned project is that, composite framed structures of the type tested at Cardington possess enormous reserves of strength through adopting large displacement configurations. Furthermore, it is the thermally induced forces and displacements, and not material degradation that govern the structural response in fire. Degradation (such as steel yielding and buckling) can even be helpful in developing the large displacement load carrying modes safely. This, of course, is only true until just before failure when material degradation and loads begin to dominate the behaviour once again. However, because no clear failures of composite structures such as the Cardington frame have been seen, it is not clear how far these structures are from failure in a given fire. This paper attempts to lay down some of the most important and fundamental principles that govern the behaviour of composite frame structures in fire in a simple and comprehensible manner. This is based upon the analysis of the response of single structural elements under a combination of thermal actions and end restraints representing the surrounding structure. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)721-744
Number of pages24
JournalFire Safety Journal
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2001


  • composite structures
  • thermal expansion
  • thermal bowing
  • restraint to thermal actions
  • non-linear geometrical responses


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