Sie sind auf Seite 1von 6


discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at:

Structural Engineering: Seeing the Big Picture

Article in KSCE Journal of Civil Engineering December 2007
Impact Factor: 0.48 DOI: 10.1007/s12205-008-8025-7




1 author:
Wai Fah Chen
University of Hawaii at Mnoa

All in-text references underlined in blue are linked to publications on ResearchGate,

letting you access and read them immediately.

Available from: Wai Fah Chen

Retrieved on: 27 May 2016

Structural Engineering

KSCE Journal of Civil Engineering

Vol. 12, No. 1 / January 2008
pp. 25~29
DOI 10.1007/s12205-008-8025-7

Structural Engineering: Seeing the Big Picture

By W. F. Chen*

The state-of-the-art of progress of structural engineering over the last 50 years is examined in three areas: (1) The spatial
idealization of structural elements in the form of kinematical assumptions; (2) The constitutive idealization of materials in the form of
generalized stresses and generalized strains relations; and (3) The computational implications of solution strategy in the form of
closed form, approximate, and numerical procedures on the structural level.
Keywords: structural engineering, stress-strain, kinematics, finite element, strength of materials, modeling and simulation, state-ofthe-art

1. Introduction
Structural engineering is a part of the broad and fascinating
subject of mechanics of materials or continuum mechanics,
which spans the spectrum from the fundamental aspects of
elastic and inelastic behavior of materials to the practical solution
of engineering problems in engineering practice.
Mechanics is a branch of applied physics involving
mathematical formulation of a physical problem and its solution
strategy for engineering applications. The process must involve
three basic conditions or equations for solutions:
1. Equilibrium equations or motion reflecting law of physics
(Newtons law or Physics).
2. Constitutive equations or stress-strain relations reflecting
material behavior (Materials or Experiments).
3. Compatibility equations or kinematical assumptions reflecting the geometry (Continuity or Logic).
The required simplicity of equilibrium, material behavior, and
kinematics to be usable with the most powerful computers, for
the analysis or design of engineering structures over their life
cycle simulation, requires drastic idealizations and simplifications
to achieve realistic and practical solution for engineering design.
This paper shows how structural engineering field has been
evolved and progressed over the last 50 years along with the
rapid growth and development of computing power over the last
several decades.

2. Strength of Materials Approach to Structural

Engineering in the Early Years
The methods of formulation and calculation of a structural

problem must be adapted to a wide class of structural forms so

that the basic equations to be written for a structural element are
manageable and not too excessively complex. To this end, the
concept of generalized stresses and generalized strains were
introduced in the 1950s for solutions of strength of materials
types of problems including beams, columns, beam-columns that
form the basis of analysis for frame design. This was later
extended to include plate and shell types of structural analysis
and design.
In the case of simple beam theory, for example, the stressed
state in a beam element is determined by only one generalized
stress, the bending moment, instead of six stresses; while the
corresponding deformation is defined by one generalized strain,
the curvature, instead of six strains. This drastic simplification is
achieved through the powerful kinematical assumption of plane
section remains plane after bending. This generalized stress and
generalized strain concept for a simple beam element can be
easily extended to the case of column element, for example, with
combined generalized stresses of bending moment and axial
force with the corresponding generalized strains of bending
curvature and axial shortening.
As a result of this simplification, the equilibrium equations are
used to relate the stresses in an element to its generalized
stresses, while the kinematical assumption is used to relate the
strains in an element to its generalized strains, and the stress-strain
relations of materials are then used to derive the generalized
stresses and generalized strains relations for a structural element.
The basic formulation for a structural member is now reduced to
a one-dimensional problem instead of six dimensions in the sense
of continuum mechanics approach to a structural engineering

*Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822 (E-mail:
Vol. 12, No. 1 / January 2008


W. F. Chen

For an elastic problem, most of strength of materials problems

can be solved in closed form by power series expansion as well
documented in the famous work of Timoshenko. Many of these
well known classical solutions for beams, columns, beam-columns,
plates and shells were reported in a series of widely popular
books by Timoshenko (1951, 1953, 1961, 1962), among others.
For high rise building frames, the entire length of a structural
member is selected as the basic element for engineering analysis.
To this end, the corresponding relationships between the
generalized stresses (member end moments and end forces) and
the corresponding generalized strains (member end rotations and
relative end lateral displacements) for a structural member were
represented in the form of the well-known slope-deflection
equations for elastic structural system analysis (Chen and Lui,
1987, 1991). The slope deflection equations were simple and
powerful and thus widely used in engineering practice for building
frame design based on the Allowable Stress Design codes in
early years.
In engineering practice, a more powerful companion approximate method known as the moment distribution method was
also developed by Hardy Cross at the University of Illinois
(Gere, 1962). It was based on the St. Venant principle in that the
moment distribution in a particular structural member in a high
rise building frame is affected mostly by the surrounding
members adjacent to it. The influence of other members in some
distance from the member under consideration is relative small
and may be ignored after a few cycles of iteration.
For inelastic problems, a further simplification of material
behavior is made by ignoring strain hardening and also to
eliminating entirely the factor of time from the formulation. This
leads to the time independent idealization for plastic behavior
and enables us to use the simple plastic theory to determine the
plastic collapse load with the equilibrium methods for lower
bound solutions and the mechanism methods for upper bound
For low rise building, simple plastic theory was developed in
which the material model used was elastic perfectly plastic
(ASCE Manual 41, 1971). The kinematical assumption used was
the powerful concept of plastic hinge. Upper and lower bound
solutions were obtained by the simple mechanism methods
bounded above; and the simple equilibrium methods with
moment check bounded below (see for example, Chen and
Sohal, 1995). The Plastic Design method was officially adopted
by the American Institute of Steel Construction in the early
1960s (see, for example, ASCE Manual 41, 1971).
As a result of this advancement, plastic design methods for
steel structures were spread widely and introduced quickly in
various new codes around the world for steel design; while the
companion ultimate strength design for reinforced concrete was
advanced quickly and adopted widely in the reinforced concrete
codes for building design. Similar advancements were also made
for the plate theory for plate type of steel structural design; while
the yield line theory was introduced at the same time for slab
design in reinforced concrete code.

Based on these simple and practical solution techniques using

drastic simplifications and idealizations for materials, geometry
and equations of equilibrium, the traditional Allowable Stress
Design Method and the newly developed Plastic Design
Method were widely used in engineering practice in those years.
These simple and powerful design methods are ideal and suitable
with the basic computing facility available at the time such as
slide rule and calculators. Drastic idealizations and simplifications
were the key elements for a rapid and successful implementation
of these methods for design of real world engineering problems.
In summary, the idealizations and simplifications used in the
strength of materials approach to structural engineering problems
can be highlighted by the following seven steps of progress:
1. Structural elements beam, column, beam-column, plate
and shell.
2. Generalized stresses stress resultants such as moment and
axial force.
3. Generalized strains strain resultants such as curvature and
axial displacement.
4. Stresses to generalized stresses through equilibrium equations.
5. Strains to generalized strains through kinematical assumptions.
6. Generalized stress and generalized strain relations
through stress-strain relations of materials.
7. Solution strategy series expansion, approximate and

3. Finite Element Approach to Structural Engineering in Recent Years

In the 1970s, our computing power changed drastically with
mainframe computing. The Finite Element methods were well
developed and widely used in structural engineering. The basic
material model used was the extension from linear elasticity to
inelasticity, or plasticity in particular. The basic kinematical or
compatibility condition used for a finite-element formulation
was known as the shape function. The equilibrium condition
was achieved through a weak format of equation of virtual
work instead of the usual free body equilibrium formulation.
As a result of these simplifications, the force displacement
relation for a finite element was expressed in the form of the
generalized stress and generalized strain relationship. This basic
relationship for an element in a discrete continuum of a structural
system is known as the nodal force and nodal displacement
equation. The stresses in elements were related to the
generalized stresses or nodal forces through the virtual work
equation. Elemental strains were related to the generalized strains
or nodal displacements through the kinematical assumption, or
shape function. The incremental generalized stress and generalized
strain relation for a finite element was then obtained through the
constitutive equation of a particular material.
In summary, the three basic conditions for a valid solution of a
typical finite element formulation are achieved with the following


KSCE Journal of Civil Engineering

Structural Engineering: Seeing the Big Picture

idealizations and simplifications:

(1) Equilibrium Condition (Newtons Law or Physics)
The virtual work equation is used exclusively to establish the
relationship between the stress in an element to the generalized
stresses or nodal forces at nodal points.
(2) Kinematics Condition (Continuity or Logic)
The shape function is introduced to establish the relationship
between the strains in an element to the generalized strains of
nodal displacements at the nodal points.
(3) Constitutive Relations (Material or Experiment)
The theory of plasticity or viscosity is used to relate the
generalized stresses to generalized strains or the nodal forces and
nodal displacements relationships through the use of constitutive
equations of engineering materials.
The two-volume treatise on constitutive equations for engineering materials by Chen and Saleeb (1982), and Chen (1994) covers
most of these developments, among others (Chen and Baladi,
1985). During this period, we were able to solve almost any kind
of structural engineering problems with computer simulation.
For the first time in the history of computing, the physical theory
is lagging behind the computing power. By now, engineers need
to develop a more refined theory of constitutive equations for
engineering materials for their special finite element types of
As a result of these simplifications, the structural engineering
problem is now reduced to the solution of a set of simultaneous
incremental equations for a structural system. Since the solution
includes the inelastic behavior of materials which is load path
dependent, the numerical scheme used was an incremental and
iterative process (Chen and Han, 1988). Many numerical procedures were developed during the period, most notably the
tangent stiffness method, among others.
With a large amount of numerical data so generated, it became
necessary for engineers to use probability theory and reliability
analysis to analyze the data and develop design procedures for
practical implementation. As a result of this development, a new
generation of codes based on an extensive computer simulation
and reliability analysis was developed and adopted around the
world. For the first time in engineering practice ever, the load
effect and structural resistance effect were treated separately in
design, each with its own safety or load factor. The new code in
US, for example, was adopted by the American Institute of Steel
Construction entitled the load and resistance factor design
specifications for steel buildings in 1986.
The following is a brief summary in a tabular form of the
impact of the applications of finite element methods with
plasticity theory on structural engineering practice.
3.1 In the 1970s: Development of Structural Member
Strength Equations
Beam strength equation beam design curve.
Column strength equation column design curve.
Beam-Column strength equation beam-column interaction
design curve.
Vol. 12, No. 1 / January 2008

Bi-axially loaded column strength equation for plastic design

in steel building frames.
These developments were summarized in the two-volume
beam-columns treatise by Chen and Atsuta (1976, 1977) and the
SSRC Guide edited by Galambos (1988), among others.
3.2 In the 1980s: Limit States to Design
Development of reliability-based codes.
The publication of the 1986 AISC/LRFD Specification.
The introduction of the second-order elastic analysis to the
design codes.
The explicit consideration of semi-rigid connections in frame
design (now known as the PR Construction) (Chen and Kim,
These developments were summarized in the structural
stability books by Chen and Lui (1991) and Chen (1993), among
3.3 In the 1990s: Structural System Approach to Design
Second-Order inelastic analysis for steel frame design was
under intense development (White and Chen, 1993).
The theory of plasticity is combined with the theory of
stability for a direct steel frame design (Chen and Kim,
The advanced analysis considers explicitly the influence of
structural joints in analysis/design process (Chen, 2000).
These developments were summarized in the structural
stability books by Chen and Toma (1994), and Chen and Lui
(2005), among others.

4. Model-Based Simulation in Civil Engineering:

Challenges and Opportunities
We are now in a desk top environment for free computing. We
are able to do a large scale simulation of structural system over
its life-cycle performance analysis. Computer simulation has
now joined theory and experimentation as a third path for
engineering design and performance evaluation.
The development of model-based simulation for any civil
engineering structures or facilities must involve the following
four steps:
4.1 Modeling of Materials
The constitutive equations for materials are now moving from
time-independent to time-dependent behaviors such as creep,
relaxation, temperature variation, and deterioration or aging.
These equations must be developed by engineers on the basis of
mechanics, physics, and materials science. In a numerical
analysis of these materials in a structural system, the proper
modeling of discontinuity and fracture or crack for tension-weak
materials becomes increasing important.


4.2 Solution Algorithm

For a realistic life-cycle simulation of constructed facilities, it

W. F. Chen

is not uncommon for engineers to deal with the mathematical

modeling of radically different scales, in time and/or space. The
computational effort for different parts of a large structural
system may be drastically different. For example, in the analysis
of reinforced concrete bridge system under seismic loading, a
macro scale is necessary to model the overall behavior of the
structure-soil interaction. Yet, a micro scale is needed at a local
level to trace crack initiation and propagation.
Computation efficiency can be achieved in this case by using
parallel finite-element analyses for the structural system. Parallel
macro and micro analyses can be performed by multiple machines,
such as PC cluster systems. This computational method requires
repartitioning of the domain during the course of the analysis,
making the development of suitable interfaces, data communication tools, or central databases with different levels for different
scales in time and in space is of critical importance.
As another example, the finite-element method is preferred in
structural engineering and solid mechanics, while the finitedifference method is more commonly used in fluid mechanics.
When dealing with structure-fluid interaction problems, as
frequently encountered in offshore structural engineering, the
development of suitable data translators or data communication
tools is necessary in order to use existing codes, which are based
on two different methodologies.
4.3 Software Development
There are hundreds of software systems on the market to
support software development. A software support system is a
compatible set of tools, usually based on a specific software
development methodology, which can be employed for several
phases of software and operation.
The key to a domain-specific software development environment is software reuse. Software reuse enables the knowledge
obtained from the solution of a particular problem to be accumulated and shared in the solution of other problems. If software
components accumulated from previous software development
can be utilized readily in the development of new applications,
substantial applications can be built more efficiently. This is an
ideal environment for university research and education. This
idea was carried out and implemented, for the first time, at
Purdue University with my former colleagues, D.W. White and
E. Sotelino (1994), and former doctoral students, H. Zhang and J.
Lu, among others with major financial supports from the
National Science Foundation (NSF).
At present, the key to software development is software integration. Since most commercial software has its own particular
function and input/output formats, it may prohibit direct data
access. It seems very necessary to unify the documentation from
different software and to make the newest and largest efforts in
the development of standard models, such as Industry Foundation Class (IFC). Following the development of grid computing,
the interoperability of facilities and software at different location
in the network can be realized.

4.4 Visualization and Verification

Modeling is science, simulation is computing, and computing
requires solution algorithms and software development. Visualization is a necessary step to aid in the interpretation of the
simulated results. Validation of the simulation of an engineering
problem must be verified by experimental work.
Model-based simulation is inherently interdisciplinary in
science and engineering, where computation plays the key role.
The entire process of model-based simulation involves the
following seven steps:
1. Experimental measurements as the basis for the development of relevant constitutive equations for a physical
2. Design of a proper algorithm for its numerical solutions;
3. Implementation of the procedures with necessary documentation and software interface development;
4. Selection of appropriate hardware to run the computer
simulation of the physical system;
5. Validation of the computer model with physical testing;
6. Graphical visualization of the simulated results; and finally;
7. Sharing of the simulation model with others through high
speed network communication.
In the current high-performance computing environment, the
major challenges of modeling, simulation and validation are the
integration of material science, structural engineering and computational mechanics with proper simplifications and idealizations
for practical applications. As mentioned previously, modeling is
science, simulation is computing, and validation is experimentation. All these three areas of further development require
structural engineers own effort and focus including, for
example, the following issues for future structural engineering
From structural system approach to life-cycle structural
analysis of structures covering construction sequence
analysis during construction, performance analysis during
service, and degradation and deterioration analysis during
maintenance, rehabilitation, and demolition (Chong et al.,
From finite element modeling for continuous media to finite
block modeling for tension-weak materials with tensile crack
development and subsequent changing of structural geometry
and topology.
From time-independent elastic and inelastic material modeling to time-dependent modeling reflecting material degradation and deterioration science (Montero et al., 2001).

5. Concluding Remarks
Advancement in computer technology in recent years has
spurred the development of scientific simulation and visualization
in science and engineering. Such capability has spurred similar
developments in structural engineering and allowed the solutions
of many structural engineering problems before thought of
unsolvable, and consequently, are now driving progress in a


KSCE Journal of Civil Engineering

Structural Engineering: Seeing the Big Picture

number of challenging areas of structural engineering including,

for example, life-cycle type of analysis for cost estimate and lifecycle design considerations, finite block type of analysis for
structures with tensile crack development and topology change
under an increasing loading, and degradation type of analysis for
deterioration and aging of structural materials with time, among
Good progress has been made in recent years in structural
engineering, but much more remains to be done in terms of
simplification and idealization in constitutive modeling of
materials, structural modeling of elements, and computing
strategy for reliable solution scheme of large scale simulation in
time and space for large constructed facilities.

ASCE, American Society of Civil Engineers Manual 41 (1971). Plastic
Design in Steel: A Guide and Commentary, ASCE, New York, p.
LRFD, The Load and Resistance Factor Design Specification for
Structural Steel Buildings (1986, 2005). American Institute of Steel
Construction, Chicago.
Chen, W.F. and Atsuta, T. (1976). Theory of Beam-Columns, Vol. 1 In-Plane Behavior and Design, McGraw-Hill, New York, p. 513
Chen, W.F. and Atsuta, T. (1977). Theory of Beam-Columns, Vol. 2 Space Behavior and Design, McGraw-Hill, New York, p. 732.
Chen, W.F. and Lui, E.M. (1987). Structural Stability: Theory and
Implementation, Elsevier, New York. p. 486.
Chen, W.F. and Lui, E.M. (1991). Stability Design of Steel Frames, CRC
Press, Boca Raton, Florida, p. 380.
Chen, W.F., Editor (1993). Semi-Rigid Connections in Steel Frames,
Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, McGraw-Hill, New
York, p. 318.
Chen, W.F. and Toma, S. (1994). Advanced Analysis of Steel Frames,
CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, p. 384.
Chen, W.F. and Sohal, I. (1995). Plastic Design and Second-Order
Analysis of Steel Frames, Springer-Verlag, New York, p. 509.
Chen, W.F. and Kim, S.E. (1997). LRFD Steel Design Using Advanced
Analysis, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, p. 448.
Chen, W.F., Goto, Y., and Liew, J.Y.R. (1996). Stability Design of SemiRigid Frames, John Wiley & Sons, New York, p. 468
Chen, W.F. and Kim, Y.S. (1998). Practical analysis for partially
restrained frame design, Structural Stability Research Council,

Vol. 12, No. 1 / January 2008

Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, p. 82.

Chen, W. F., Editor (2000). Practical Analysis for Semi-Rigid Frame
Design, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, p. 465.
Chen, W. F. and Lui, E. M., Editors (2005). Chapter 5: Steel Frame
Design Using Advanced Analysis, In the Handbook of Structural
Engineering, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, Second Edition.
Chen, W. F. and Han, D. J. (1988). Plasticity for Structural Engineers,
Springer-Verlag, New York, p. 606.
Chen, W.F. ana Baladi, G.Y. (1985). Soil Plasticity: Theory and
Implementation. Elsevier, Amsterdam, p. 231.
Chen, W.F. and Saleeb, A.F. (1982). Constitutive Equations for
Engineering Materials, Vol. 1 - Elasticity and Modeling, Wiley
Inter-science, New York, p. 580.
Chen, W. F. (1994). Constitutive Equations for Engineering Materials,
Vol. 2 - Plasticity and Modeling, Elsevier, Amsterdam, p. 1096.
Chong, K. P., Saigal, S., Thynell, S., and Morgan, H., Editors (2002).
Modeling and Simulation-Based Life-Cycle Engineering, Spoon
Press, London, UK, p. 348.
Galambos, T. V., Editor (1988). Guide to Stability Design Criteria for
Metal Structures, 4th edition John Wiley & Sons, New York.
Gere, J. M. (1962). Moment Distribution, Van Nostrand, Princeton, New
Montero, P., Chong, K. P., Larsen-Basse, J. and Komvopoulos, K.
(2001). Long-Term Durability of Structural Materials. Elsevier,
Netherlands, p. 296.
Sotelino, E. D. and Chen, W. F. (1998). Future challenges for
simulation in structural engineering, Proceedings of the Fourth
World Congress on Computational Mechanics, Buenos Aires,
Argentina, June 30-July 3. (In CD-ROM).
Sotelino, E. D., White, D. W. and Chen, W. F. (1994). An automated
environment for parallel computing, Proceedings of the 11th
Analysis and Computation Conference, Editor, F.Y. Cheng, Atlanta,
GA, April 24-28, (1994) ASCE Publication, pp. 193-202.
Timoshenko, S. P. (1953). History of the Strength of Materials,
McGraw-Hill, New York.
Timoshenko, S. P. and Gere, J. M. (1961). Theory of Elastic Stability,
McGraw-Hill, New York.
Timoshenko, S. P. and Goodier, J. N. (1951). Theory of Elasticity,
McGraw-Hill, New York.
Timoshenko S. P. and Young D. H. (1962). Elements of Strength of
Materials, Van Nostrand, Princeton, New Jersey.
White, D. W. and Chen, W. F. (1993). Plastic hinge based methods for
advanced analysis and design of steel frames: An assessment of the
State-of-the-Art, Structural Stability Research Council, Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania, p. 299.