They come up with a design proposal that prevents catastrophic collapses and is inspired by how lizards protect themselves from predators


A team from the Icitech Institute of the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) has published in ‘Nature’ the latest results of its “radical” proposal to achieve ultra-resistant buildings, which are capable of withstanding extreme situations caused by natural disasters – floods, floods , landslides– explosions, its own aging, or inadequate maintenance and conservation.

This proposal adds a last line of defense to the design of the structure of buildings to avoid catastrophic collapses and the new method is inspired by how lizards protect themselves from predators by releasing their tails when they are attacked.

The prestigious scientific magazine ‘Nature’ has published the work of the team from the Icitech Institute of the UPV on the cover of its today’s issue. Furthermore, it is the first time that the magazine publishes a research article in the field of building design and construction.

From the academic institution they explain that current design methods are based on improving connectivity between the components of the structure. In the event that a component fails, this connectivity allows the loads supported by the failing components to be redistributed to the rest of the structural system.

Although these formulas are effective in the case of small initial failures, they can increase the risk of progressive collapse after large initial failures, thus leading to complete or large collapses. This happened, for example, in the Champlain Towers and in the collapse of a building in Peñíscola in 2021, or in the Iranian city of Abadan in 2022. And this is what the proposal arising from the Icitech of the UPV avoids.

“Our novel design method provides a solution to overcome this alarming limitation and achieve more resilient buildings, capable of isolating the collapse of only the part of the structure that has suffered the initial failure, and safeguarding the rest of the building. The new design method design has been verified with a test on a real building. Therefore, it is the first solution against the spread of collapses in buildings after large initial failures that has been tested and verified on a real scale,” highlights José M. Adam, co-author. publishing with Nirvan Makoond, Andri Setiawan and Manuel Buitrago; all of them members of the Icitech of the UPV.

“With the application of the new design method – he adds – it will be possible to prevent catastrophic collapses, thus protecting human lives and minimizing the material costs that a complete collapse of the structure would entail.”

The key to the method devised by the UPV team lies in using the concept of structural fuse, which allows the damaged parts of a building to be isolated in order to prevent the spread of major failures to the entire construction.

“This new philosophy is similar to the way electrical networks are protected against overloads, by connecting different segments of the network using electrical fuses. With our designs, the building has structural continuity under normal operating conditions, but becomes segmented when the propagation of a fault is inevitable, thus reducing the extent of collapse and avoiding total collapse,” notes Nirvan Makoond.

“The implementation of the method will have a slight, or even negligible, impact on the cost of the structure, since it uses conventional construction details and materials,” says Andri Setiawan.

In its current state of development, these researchers’ new design can be applied to virtually any newly constructed building. “Its effectiveness has been verified and demonstrated for buildings with a prefabricated concrete structure. We are currently working on the application of the methodology to buildings executed with concrete in situ and to buildings with a steel structure,” concludes Manuel Buitrago.

The development of this new design method is one of the most notable results to date of the Endure project, funded by the European Research Council – ERC (European Research Council) with a Consolidator Grant of more than 2.5 million euros . It was precisely within the framework of this project that a pioneering worldwide test was carried out in June last year, which allowed its performance to be validated.

The tests were done with a complete building, on a full scale, in which a large initial failure in the structure was isolated in a part of the building, preventing its propagation to the entire structure. It should be noted that the research is carried out 100% at the UPV, with the four authors of the publication also being researchers at the UPV.

The seed of this project arose from a Leonardo Scholarship that the BBVA Foundation awarded in 2017 to José M. Adam. Now, seven years later, the ICITECH – UPV researcher continues with this revolutionary project, hand in hand with the European Research Council, which will make it possible to build safer buildings and save human lives.

Endure will be developed until 2026 in the ICITECH structures laboratory of the Polytechnic University of Valencia, one of the largest in Europe for testing large structural elements.