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Structural analysis is a key part of design in civil structural engineering. The
structural analysis is the procedure that enables the determination of the
structural response (the internal forces and the movement components)
considering the applied external effects (loads, displacements, thermal) and
the boundary conditions. It was not too long ago that structural analysis
methods were performed manually using the various conventional theory of
structures methods such as the moment distribution method, the slope
deflection method, the matrix method.

The use of these conventional manual methods is commonly accompanied

with difficulties when conducting complex structural analysis such as the study
of three dimensional structures, the dynamic analysis, the non-linear
behaviorMoreover, these methods require long time for calculation and may
result in inaccuracy of the obtained results.

Another method of calculation is the finite element method (FEM). The FEM,
developed long time ago from the matrix analysis method, provides high level
of accuracy when used in the structural analysis, but the mathematical
complexity of the method made it impractical for manual analysis. The
development of the computers and the evolution of their capacity in the
previous decades allowed for the integration of the FEM as numerical method
for the use in the structural analysis. Accordingly, the FEM became typically the
base for the modern structural analysis.

The FEM software represent powerful and flexible means to model a wide
range of structures and straining effects on the structures. However, the use of
this powerful means may embrace important peril within the obtained
solutions if some precautions are not properly incorporated in the numerical

Performing adequate numerical structural studies requires basic knowledge in

the FEM and strong theoretical structural background (Theory of Structures,
structural behavior of Tall Buildings). In other words, The behavior of a
structure ,when subjected to more or less complex effects (dynamic, non-
linearity), should be predictable by the user based on his former theoretical

knowledge and experience in the structural domain. ACI Presidents Memo
Jos M. Izquierdo- Encarnacin 2003 highlighted the importance of the above

As a rule, a program should be used only if engineers can predict the general
deflection and distribution of moments in the structure prior to obtaining a
solution. The computed solution is used to verify the results previously
predicted by the engineers. If the solution is significantly different from the
prediction, engineers should use the results only if they can satisfactorily
explain the reason for the discrepancy and find it acceptable.

The type of expected results may include:

Approximate values of some structural response components such as

the slabs/beams deflections or the sway/drifts buildings. The
approximate values may be obtained from simplified theory of
structures methods (moment distributions...)
Recognizing the deformed shape of the whole structure and the
structural elements under the applied loads

Despite their continuous development, most of commercial structural software

have practical limitations such as the size limitation of the model and the linear
behavior of materials. Commonly a single model of the structure cannot be
used to provide all aspects of a structural behavior. For the same structure,
several analysis models are often needed, each with different set of
parameters or different elements type, to generate a specific structural
response (elements forces, deformations...).

Since most of the software manuals provide guidelines for the use of specific
software assuming the user has already the required theoretical knowledge
and adequate experience, the intent of this manual is to provide simplified
basic guidelines of the structural modeling techniques combining:

The complexity of numerical analysis by using Finite Element Method

The systematic procedures to use these software that are stated in the
software help manuals.

However, the user manuals of software do not include all necessary modeling
techniques, tips, and the adequate assumptions for specific cases of study.

The aim is to enable the user to construct a numerical model that properly
generate the expected responses of a structure.

In other words, it is a simplified framework to provide guidelines for all

structural engineers including fresh graduates and undergraduate students. It
presents clarifications and answers that help the user comprehend the
different aspects of structural modeling by understanding the concepts of
analysis of the structural elements and the various ways to reflect this analysis
as given inputs within the software.
It tackles the structural elements as separate subjects clarifying the different
ways to deal with these elements based on given criteria.

Hoping this manual to serve its purpose, it is only the first edition. Your
comments, feedbacks, suggestions and queries are all welcomed to bring out
the best of and enhance the editions yet to come.


1. Introduction 7
2. Degrees of Freedom 8
3. Finite Elements for Structural Modeling 8
4. Global and Local Axis System 10
5. Basic Assumptions 12
6. Meshing of Area Elements (Slabs, Walls, Domes) 14
6.1 Shell Element Shapes 14
6.2 Mesh Refinement 16
6.3 Singular Points 18

7. Modeling of Columns 21
8. Vertical Alignment 21
8.1 Elements of centerlines along the same vertical axis 21
8.2. Use stiff rigid elements 22
8.3. Use of shell FE 23
8.4. Columns embedded or connected to Structural Walls 23
9. Modeling of Structural Walls and Core Walls 24
9.1 Meshing of Walls 25
9.2 Vertical Discontinuity in Walls 25
9.3 Openings in the Structural Walls 26
9.4 Pier assignment of shear walls and core Walls 26
9.5 Horizontal Alignment of Walls 28
9.6 Modeling of Walls and Core-Walls with Frame FE 30
9.7 Boundary Zones of Shear Walls and Core Walls 33
10. Modeling of Beams 35
11. Deep Beam (Wall-Beam) 36
12. Modeling of Floor Slabs 38

13. Modeling of Ramps and Stairs 39
14. Story Data 39
15.Lateral Earth Pressure on Basement Walls 40
16. Stiffness Modifiers 41
16.1 Stiffness modifiers for the FE direct results 42
16.2 Stiffness modifiers for the FE indirect shell results 42
17. Fixity level for Seismic Analysis 43
18. Diaphragm behavior of floor slabs 44
19. Connectivity of Vertical to Horizontal Structural Elements 47
20. Seismic additional eccentricity 49
21.Special Considerations For Tall Buildings 49
21.1 Elastic Shortening and Inelastic Time-Dependent
Shortening 49
21.2 P-Delta analysis of buildings 51

22. Modeling of Foundations 52

23. Modeling of Piles 53
24. Modeling of Pile-Raft foundation 55
25. warnings 55
25.1 Boundary Conditions 56
25.2 Loss of Accuracy 57
25.3 Negative Stiffness 57
26. Import of geometrical data from AutoCAD Files 58

1. Introduction

The structural study of new or existing structures aims to design or assess the
structures capacity to support the effects of the straining effects as applied
external loads, imposed movements, temperature, acceleration transmitted
from supports.

The structural analysis constitutes a major step in the structural study. It

consists of determining the structural responses (movements and internal
forces) resulting from the straining effects and boundary conditions
(supporting systems). This may be performed manually using the conventional
methods of the theory of structures yet will be approximate, or by more
accurate methods such as the use of Finite Elements Method (FEM). To carry
out the analysis of a given structure by using FE, its structural elements are
divided into finite number of small elements of shapes like lines (frame
elements) or areas (triangles or quadrangle elements). FE forms
interconnected with their boundary nodes.

FE models can be created using one-dimensional (frame elements), two-

dimensional (2D shell elements) or three-dimensional (3D solid elements).

Figure 1.a. 3D view of Building Figure 1.b. Numerical model

2. Degrees of Freedom

The degrees of freedoms (D.O.F) represent the components of movement

(translations and rotations) of an element from an initial to a final position. The
movement components for an element in space consist of:

Figure 2. Orientation of space axis system

3 displacement components: UX, UY, and UZ

3 rotational components: RX, RY, and RZ

Where Ui represents the displacement parallel to i axis, and Rj

represents the rotation around the j axis.

3. Finite Elements for Structural Modeling

The finite elements that are commonly used for the structural analysis are:

The Frame (or bar) elements with various D.O.F, such as the frame
elements with 1 D.O.F (along translation D.O.F direction) to represent tie
beams, or frame elements with 3 D.O.F (one translation and 2 rotation
D.O.F) to represent beams subjected to non-axial loads within one plane
(local x-z or local x-y), or with 6 D.O.F to represent columns subjected to
axial forces and shear forces along both (X & Y) horizontal directions

Figure 3. Frame Element

Frame elements may be also used to represent structural walls (column
with equivalent section), or slabs (the grillage method) where the slab is
represented by a grid of 3 D.O.F frame elements along the length and the
width of the slab.

Shell elements with various D.O.F, as example:

o The shell elements with 6 D.O.F to represent structural elements where

the generated internal forces include axial forces and flexural moments
(shear walls, prestressed concrete floor slabs, water tank walls and

o The plate elements (shell elements with 3 D.O.F UZ, RX, & RY) are used
to represent slabs.

o The membrane elements (shell elements with 3 D.O.F UX, UY, and RZ)
are used to represent structural elements in the case where the axial
forces represent the major internal force components (as the domes and
arched roof).

Figure 4.Quadrangle and Triangle Shell Elements

Volumetric elements of 4, 6, or 8 nodes of 6 D.O.F, used for the modeling

of volumetric structures such as dams, thick transfer slabs....

Figure 4.a. 4 nodes element Figure 4.b. 4 nodes element

4. Global and Local Axis System

The geometry of a structure (joint coordinates) is defined in a user defined

global axis system. The structural response is not affected by the location
of the global axis origin (0,0,0).

Figure 5.a. Frame Local Axis Figure 5.b. Shell Local Axis

With the finite element method, each element is allocated an independent

local axis system (independent from the global system and the local
systems of the other elements), where typically:

The local x (or 1) axis is parallel to the element neutral axis, from
origin joint to end joint
The local y ( 2 or 3) axis is the second planar axis, perpendicular to x
The local z (2 or 3) axis is perpendicular to xy (1-2 or 1-3) plane

The right hand rule may also helps in defining the local axis system shown
in the next figure.

Figure 6. Right hand rule for local axis system

The analysis results for FE are obtained according to the local axis systems.
For example the internal forces of the frame element parallel to local axis 1
(or x) represents the axial force (FX), V2 (or FZ) the vertical shear, V3 (or
FY) the horizontal shear, T (Mx) the torsion moment, M2 (MZ) the
horizontal flexural moment, M3 (MY)the vertical flexural moment.

Figure 7. Shell Local Axis

For the shell elements F11, F12 and F22 represent the in-plane internal
forces, whereas V11, V12, V22, M11, M22, & M12 represent the out-of-
plane internal forces.

Figure 8. Internal forces in shell element

The internal forces and stresses and stresses in the above figure may also
be given as:



5. Basic Assumptions

The modeling of structures with finite elements software is commonly

performed taking into consideration the following:

1. Rigid connectivity between FE, which generates complex behavior

of the rigidly interconnected structural systems (framing systems,
dual system, coupled system.). Rigid default connectivity type
may however be modified with total or partial releases of one or
more than one D.O.F

2. Linear behavior of materials (Hook's law). However, an

enhancement of the material behavior may be induced with the
modification of the elements stiffness

3. Assignment by default of support type as in Etabs where all joints

at the base level are assigned pin support type. The type of
supports may be modified to a fixed type in order to enable a
transmission of moments to the foundations. More realistic
system of foundation may be adopted with plate elements
(representing the foundations) supported by springs (elastic

4. The dimensions of the FE (frame elements and shell elements) are

geometrically extended to the connectivity joint or line of these

Figure 9. Extended Elements at Connections

In the case of large difference between the clear length and the FE
length, rigid elements may be added to account for this difference.

Figure 10. Rigid Elements at Connections

6. Meshing of Area Elements (Slabs, Walls, Domes)

Meshing is the operation that transforms a contour area (wall, slab,

dome...) into a set of FE (shell, membrane, or plate) type triangles,
quadrangles, or combination of both. The meshed area represents an
assemble of discrete elements (and not a continuous medium) where the
FE analysis is carried out.

Figure 12. Shell Element Shapes

6.1- Shell Element shapes

The regularity of the FE shapes and their size affect the accuracy of the
analysis results. The most regular FE shapes are the square for quadrangle
FE and the equilateral triangle for the triangular FE. However, it is
recommended to consider the ratio of shape to be 1:2 (the minimum
length to maximum length). This ratio be increased 1:4 max.

Figure 12. Shell Element Shapes

The next figures show a rectangular (8x8m) solid slab, 20 cm thick meshed
with regular rectangular mesh than with an irregular mesh respectively.
The moment value at the center of area for the regularly meshed slab was
32.7 KNm whereas the irregular mesh generated 30.4 KNm moment at the
same point.

Figure 13a. Regular Mesh and Moments Map

Figure 13. Irregular Mesh and Moments Map

6.2 Mesh Refinement

The "mesh refinement" transforms the FE into smaller element sizes and
therefore increases the FE number in a contour area. Theoretically the
smaller the element size (the finer the mesh), the smaller the discretisation
error, and the accuracy of the analysis results increases, but computation
time increases.

Figure 13a. Regular Mesh and Moments Map

It is recommended to use refined mesh in the zones where concentration

of stresses are expected i.e. zones of the slab near supports or where
subjected to concentrated loads or moments. It is advisable to use mesh
size with the ratio 2:2:1 (the size of the element in its plane directions is 2
times the thickness). Another recommendation is to consider the elements
size not greater than 0.5m, or the span divided by 10.

The below figure 14 shows the layout of 20cm concrete solid slab
supported by 9 columns with 8.0 m spacing, whereas figures 2, 3, and 4
show the moment maps due to the self weight of the slab meshed with
elements size (1.6x1.6m), (0.4x0.4 m), and (0.1x0.1 m) respectively.

Figure 14. Coarse Mesh Moments Map

Figure 15. Fine and Very Fine Mesh Moments Maps

It can be noticed that:

The moment value is increased by 6.76 % with the coarse mesh

(1.6x1.6m) for the fine mesh (0.4x0.4m) -from 68.669 KNm/m to
73.313 KNm/m-.The fine mesh represents the recommended ratio

The use of very fine mesh (0.1x0.1m) generates moment (73.216

KNm/m) slightly different from the moment of the fine mesh.
(variation of 0.13%).

The increase in analysis results with the mesh refinement may be
represent schematically with the next figure 16.

Figure 16. Effect of Mesh refinement on the Accuracy of Results

The schematic curve in figure 16 shows that increasing the mesh

refinement further than the recommended values has no significant effect
of the accuracy of the obtained results.

In brief, when the structural study targets the global behavior of the
building -as in Etabs- and the design of the structural elements (except the
floor slabs design), the refinement of the floor slabs mesh is not of major
importance since the results will not be used for the design of the slabs.
The refinement becomes of importance when the study targets the slabs
analysis and design (as in SAFE).

6.3 Singular Points

The FE model sometimes includes singular points. At these points, some

aspect of the analysis results tends toward infinity value. The singular
points can be typically encountered in the following cases:

The reentrant corners and sharp corners where the strain becomes
unbounded since the D.O.F are the displacement, and unless limited by
the material model, the stresses will be also infinite.

Figure 17. Reentrant Corners and Sharp corners

Figure 17. Reentrant Corners and Sharp corners

Extremely high stresses may result from finite element model including
singularity and typically the refinement of mesh around the singular
points increases the stresses. This may raise a problem when the
requirement of stress upper limit (say 70% of the yield stress) is defined.
The common trend of ignoring the small red spots (small zones of
extremely high analysis result values) may not be adequate.
This type of singularity may be avoided considering the following steps:

Avoid the adaptive mesh (refinement of mesh at the corner zone)

as the stress will dominate and obscure the rest of the solution.
In static load analysis, the stress results at singularities may be
excluded. Whereas under cyclic loads or when the analysis
involves material non-linear behavior for the creep effect, the
singularity effect becomes of concern and should be carefully

Fillet of the sharp corner (as the perfect sharp corners are rare in
Removing or modifying the small details that are not important
within the analysis and may generate singularities.

Boundary Conditions and Point Loads

Applying point load in the plan of shells produces singularly effect and
generates local infinite stresses. This is due to the inverse variation of
stress to the distance of the point load, The point load does not exist in
reality, and under static loads both point load and the equivalent area load
give the same results. Same singularity effects may be generated from
boundary condition (edge wall supporting slab, point support,
unsymmetrical line support....) as illustrated in the next figure 18.

Figure 18. Boundary conditions and Point Load

The singularity effects in these cases may be addressed by:

Extending the model so that the singularity due to boundary

conditions is moved outside of the area of interest

Replacing the infinitely rigid supports by elastic sports(springs)

Ignoring the localized results at these red spots points. The analysis
results may be evaluated at a distance from the singular points.

Extremely high stresses may result from finite element model including
singularity and typically the refinement of mesh around the singular points
increases the stresses. This may raise a problem when the requirement of
stress upper limit (say 70% of the yield stress) is defined. The common
trend of ignoring the small red spots (small zones of extremely high
analysis result values) may not be adequate.

7 . Modeling of Columns

Columns as previously mentioned are commonly represented by frame F.E.

The frame FE analysis results, namely the internal forces, are directly used
for the design of sections, or the determination of the capacity, of the

8. Vertical Alignment

As the dimensions of columns and/or walls elements may be reduced in

the upper floors as the internal forces decrease, the centerlines (CL) of
these elements become non-vertically aligned; therefore, the frame FE
will be disconnected at the floor levels.

The vertical continuity of the vertical elements is realized throughout the

following methods:

8.1. Elements of center lines along the same vertical axis

Vertical elements can be considered aligned if their center lines are at the
same vertical "Z" axis or if their center lines are slightly shifted. Slight
difference in the vertical alignment of the center lines may be ignored in
order to avoid the complexity related to the use of short rigid elements to
connect the CL at the floor levels.

Architectural layout (eccentric CL of Columns) Vertical Alignment

Figure 17. Vertical Alignment of Columns

8.2. Use of Rigid Elements

The differences between the columns centerlines may be considered with

the use of stiff rigid elements at the floor levels (applicable for both
columns and walls). Rigid Element is a weightless frame FE with extremely
high flexural and shear stiffness.

Figure 18. Rigid Elements Connecting the columns

8.3. Use of shell FE

Compared to the frame FE, higher geometrical and analytical accuracy are
generated with the use of shell elements because more joints are used to
define the column (4 FE instead of 2). However, the design of the column
in this case should not be performed in the same software since shell
elements are considered as shear walls in the design process (as in ETABS).

Figure 19. Modeling of Columns with Shell Elements

8.4. Columns embedded or connected to Structural Walls

Columns may be embedded in the structural walls in the basement floors as

for the cases shown in figure 20.

The following assumptions may be adopted for the numerical study:

The part of the core-wall going along the retaining wall may be
considered same as a part of the retaining wall with different thickness
(as previously explained in paragraph 9).

The implanted column need not to be assigned within the shell core-wall
element, as the internal forces in the embedded columns decrease due
to the shell stiffness. The internal forces of the column section above the
shell element commonly govern the design of the column. Typically, the
reinforcement of the critical section at the bottom of the column (at the
link with the shell element) is extended to the floor below in the shell

The columns linked to a structural wall may be shifted to the wall center
line (or the wall center line shifted to the columns c.g ), or a rigid stiff
beam element may be used to connect the column c.g to the wall center

Figure 20. Columns to Walls

9. Structural Walls and Core Walls

Structural (shear) Walls and core-walls are commonly represented by shell FE.
The internal forces generated in these elements include in-plane and out-of-
plane components (Axial and shear forces, torsion and biaxial flexural

The modeling of shear walls with membrane FE results in an underestimation

of the wall out of-plane stiffness since in the membrane FE only 3 (in-plane)
DOF are involved in the analysis. The analysis results of shear walls will not
include out of-plane internal forces.

Modeling the shear walls with 6 DOF shell FE, results in in-plan and out of-
plane 6 components of internal forces.

9.1 Meshing of Walls

A rectangular wall may be represented with minimum one rectangular

shell element in each floor. In Etabs, it has by default the local axis system
as shown in the next figure21.

Figure 21. Wall Local Axis

For a higher accuracy of the analysis results, its highly advisable to mesh
wall elements as previously recommended (the single wall shell element is
not automatically meshed by default in Etabs).

9.2 Vertical Discontinuity in Walls

A wall varying in length along the building height results in discontinuous

vertical shell elements.

Figure 22. Walls Deformed Shape with Edge Constraint

To ensure the continuity of the wall, shell elements may be assigned auto edge
constraints (Etabs assigns by default auto-edge constraints). A better approach
of this case may be obtained by subdividing the longer element into several
elements as shown in the next figure.

Figure 23. Walls Deformed Shape with Continuous Elements

9.3 Openings in the Structural Walls

Openings in the structural walls may be ignored if the area of the openings
is smaller than 15% of the wall area at the same floor (an exception is to be
considered for the case of longitudinal or transversal strip openings).
Larger openings shall be included within the wall shell elements.

9.4 Pier assignment of shear wall and core Walls

When shell elements are used for the walls and core-walls, the generated
results are distributed per unit length of the element (forces/ unit length,
moments/unit length...). For design purposes, it may be preferable to
obtain the resultants of wall internal forces as concentrated along the
neutral axis, similarly to the frame FE results. This may be achieved with
different ways in the software (as advanced "reduced results" in Robot
Millennium or as pier results in Etabs....)

The pier function (or the reduced results) generates internal forces
including an important component for the design of the wall section that is
the in-plane moment of the wall (this component is not directly obtained
as FE shell result).

The in-plane moment (M3 or MY) is calculated from the summation of the
couples of axial forces generated from the normal stresses of the shell
element (s22 or syy).

Figure 24. Wall/Pier Local Axis

Walls and core walls(1) may be assigned same pier label at all floor levels
except for the case were the wall is subdivided in more than one shell
within the same floor (case for large wall opening(2) ), in such case each
shell is assigned a different pier label.

The core wall maybe assigned several pier labels for each shell element.
Whatever is the assignment method of the core wall, the design results will
be the same (the area of reinforcement of the whole pier section =
summation of the reinforcement area of the different piers) since the pier
results -or the reduced results- are generated from the same FE shell

Figure 25. Pier Assignment
When a wall is assigned an opening, the shell element shall be
subdivided into elements connected at boundary joints as illustrated
in the next figures.

Wall (shell element) Subdivision into several

with opening shell elements

Figure 26. Meshing of Wall with Opening

9.5. Horizontal Alignment of walls

Walls with different thickness

The walls and core-wall may have different thicknesses of their parts as
shown in the next figures. These differences lead to discontinuity of the
neutral axis of the wall and the core wall parts and therefore
disconnected wall section and core-wall section when shell elements are
used to represent these structural elements.

Figure 27. Discontinuity of Walls Neutral Plans

The automatic conversion of sections including thickness variations from

AutoCAD Polyline to structural wall elements may result in improper
connections of the shell elements.

To avoid the complexity of connectivity by rigid elements and to enable

the continuity between the parts, it is advisable to consider an idealized
wall or core wall sections as shown in the next figures.

Figure 27. Discontinuity of Walls Neutral Plans

Walls with variable thickness

The walls may have linear or non-linear variation in thickness as shown

in the next figure showing planar views of corner connected walls.

Figure 28. Variation of Wall thickness

A simplified method to account for this case is by considering an

adjustment of the wall neutral axis, than subdividing the variable
thickness of the wall into segments each is represented by FE. The
thickness of the FE may be taken as the average thickness of the
adjusted wall segment.

Figure 29. Adjusted Wall and FE Segments

9.6 Modeling of Walls and Core-Walls with Frame FE

Structural walls and core walls may be represented by frame FE for a

simplified analysis as follow:

The structural wall is assigned a frame FE -wide section- at the center of

gravity1 (CG) line of the wall sections.

Figure 30. Modeling of Wall with Frame FE

The Core-wall is assigned 2 frames FE:

o The first frame element is going along the neutral axis of the core-
wall, and assigned the section properties related to axial stiffness
(namely the area and the modulus of elasticity).

o The second frame is located along the vertical axis of the shear
center and assigned the section properties related to the flexural
and torsion stiffness properties (Ix, Iy, and Iz) 2,3 .

Figure 31. Modeling of Core Wall with Frame FE

The main advantage of using the Frame FE approach is the direct use of the
results (the internal forces) in the design of the wall/ core-wall sections,
whereas the use of shell elements requires followed by a pier assignment
(or reduced results) to generate results similar to the frame. The main
disadvantage is related to the disregard of the warping stresses of the
core-wall section behaving as thin-walled.
The Center of Gravity (CG) -or the center of area- is structurally defined
as the point of the cross section of an element that causes uniform
stresses and shortening -or elongation- of the element when subjected
to normal forces. When the applied normal force is eccentric with
respect to the CG, it generates different axial shortening (or elongation)
of the section points.
The Shear Center (SC) is structurally defined as the point of the cross
section of an element that causes lateral displacement for the case of
vertical elements (in-plane displacement of the element cross sections),
when a lateral force is applied at the SC. When the lateral force is
applied eccentrically to the SC the element, sections displace
horizontally and rotate (twist).

Wall axially loaded Wall subjected to eccentric load

Figure 32. Wall Normal Stresses Distribution

Figure 33. a. Wall Translation Figure 33. b. Wall Rotation due
due to Force along the S.C to Torsion From Eccentric Force

9.7 Boundary zones of shear walls and Core-Walls with

Shear walls are assigned boundary zone of higher ratio of reinforcement

when the normal stresses at the wall boundaries exceed certain limit. The
boundary zones length from the of shear wall edge is varying from 0.15Lw
to 0.25Lw as shown in the next figure34.

Figure 34. Boundary Zones of Shear Wall

For the core wall sections the boundary zones may be defined as the
corner zones of the walls intersection as the sections type U-shape, L-
shape, box-shape ... However in the case of complex section shape not all
walls intersection constitutes boundary zones.

Figure 35. Boundary Zones of Core Walls

The end zone in core-wall sections may be identified with as the zones
maximum normal stress values within the simplified normal stress
equation for a section subjected to axial force (N), and biaxial moments
(Mx and My) as explained in the following procedure.

- The normal stress equation: (for an elastic linear distribution of stresses)

= N/A (Mx/Ix)*x (My/Iy)*y

- The datum of the stress diagram (line 0f zero stress) is obtained for = 0,
which lead to:

= N/A (Mx/Ix)*x (My/Iy)*y y= a*x+b (line equation)

- The extreme values of stresses for a given (N, Mx, and My) are obtained
for the points at the far points of the section on the datum line as shown in
the next figure.

As it can be concluded, the external corner edges of the section generate

the extreme stresses, whereas the stresses at all section parts (including
the interior walls intersections) are within the extreme values.

Figure 36. Distribution of Normal in Core Walls

10. Modeling of Beams

Similarly to the columns, beams are commonly represented in the

numerical model as frame FE or with shell elements as for the cases listed
in the next paragraph. Due to the rigid -by default- connectivity type
between beam frame elements to the vertical (columns or walls) frame or
shell elements, the numerical analysis generates framing (beam-columns)
and coupling (beam-walls) behaviors.

Due to the complexity of the design, detailing, and execution of the beam-
column and the beam-wall connections, the beam elements may not be
included in the building numerical. The beams role as supporting elements

of the floor slabs may be included in the study of the slabs (using SAFE
software for example).

When beams are included in the structural model in order to support

gravity loads, rotational releases should be assigned to the beam-column
and beam-wall connection to prevent framing or coupling behavior.
However, releases of all structure beams may lead to instability warning
messages due to excessive releases.

Figure 37. Linked Shear Walls

Figure 38. Coupled Shear Walls

Figure 39. Rigid Frame and Cantilevered Columns Moments

11. Deep Beam (Wall-Beam)

Beams may be represented by shell FE (that is considered as the more

accurate modeling approach) for the following cases of beams:

Deep beams (or the wall beams) where the beam depth may cover a
whole floor height. The deep beams may be used to support the loads of
implanted columns
The coupling beams which are beams connecting walls along their
strongest axis of inertia
Beams connecting slab parts of different levels within the same floor.

Figure 40. Wall-beam connecting 2 Levels

Similar to the case of pier assignment of shear walls, when beams are
represented by shell elements, they are assigned spandrel label to generate
design forces (or as reduced results) at the centerline of the beam.

Figure 41. Local Axis Systems for shell and Spandrel Beams

The internal forces include the in-plane flexural moments (M3 or My) that
are calculated from the summation of the couple of forces generated from
the normal stresses (s11 or sxx), in a way similar to the determination of
the in-plane moment of shear wall assigned as pier.

12. Modeling of Floor Slabs

Floors slabs are represented by thin 6 DOF shell FE. However slabs may be
represented by either:

Membrane FE to prevent the slab flexural stiffness from generating

framing behavior ,with columns, or coupling behavior (with walls) due to
lateral forces.

Plate FE which includes the flexural out of-plane slab inertia in the
numerical analysis. In this condition, no temperature analysis can be
performed since no in-plane D.O.F are involved.

Shell FE, where all degrees of freedom are used to generate in-plane and
out of-plane internal forces (as the PT slabs).

13. Modeling of Ramps and Stairs

Ramps and Stairs are type of inclined slabs between story levels. However,
and since they do not affect significantly the gravity loads distribution or
the diaphragm behavior of the floor slabs when buildings are subjected to
lateral forces, an approximation may be considered as flat ramps and
stairs at each floor level.

14. Story Data

The story data for the numerical model may be summarized with the
following points:

Stories number: is the same as the number of floors or number of


The story height: is the distance between the floor slabs mid-
thickness, except for the floor directly above foundation where the
story height is considered as the distance from the top of the
foundation to the mid-thickness of the first slab.

Figure 42. Story height

When the foundation system in not included in the numerical model,
the first floor slab is the cover slab of the foundation level, i.e. if the
building consists of 2 basement floors, the first floor slab assigned is
the basement 1 architectural slab.

Unlike the architectural drawings of floor slabs that shows the slab
geometry ,including shafts, recessed zones, and the vertical
elements above this slab, in some software (as ETABS), slabs are
assigned the vertical elements below -supporting- the slab,
supporting it.

15. Lateral Earth Pressure on Basement Walls

The basement Walls constitute important stiffeners for the buildings

when subjected to lateral forces due to wind pressure or earthquakes.
The earth pressure on the basement walls may be ignored due to the
following reasons:

In the case of completely embedded basement floors

- The basement walls are subjected to equal and opposite lateral

earth pressure. Thus, the corresponding resultant is equal to

- The lateral earth pressure generates compressive stresses in

the floor slabs and commonly minor effects on the vertical
elements. However, in the case of non-rigid diaphragm of the
floor slabs (strip slab shape, or slab with opening 50% of the
floor area), the effect of the lateral pressure on the vertical
elements should be taken into consideration.

In the case of partially embedded basement floors (no basement

peripheral walls at one or more than one sides of the basement
floors), part of the lateral earth pressure is transmitted as story
shear to the vertical elements. In such case, the earth pressure
should be assigned to the basement walls.

16. Stiffness Modifiers

When the structural analysis is conducted considering elastic behavior

of concrete material (Hooks low: = E) as in the case of most
engineering software, the flexural cracking of concrete and the
corresponding reduction of the flexural stiffness is not taken into

Since the vertical elements (columns and walls) are mostly subjected to
compressive axial forces, they crack less than horizontal elements
(beams and slabs) which are subjected mostly to flexural moments.
The elastic analysis results in:

Underestimation of the internal forces in the vertical elements

Overestimation of the internal forces in the horizontal elements.
Underestimation of the building lateral displacements (sway and
drifts), and deflections of slabs and beams.

The effects of concrete cracking can be considered with the ACI318

( reduced inertia for vertical and horizontal elements as

The reduction of inertia may be assigned to the different elements to

affect the direct FE analysis results, or to affect the indirect FE shell
results as explained hereafter:

16.1 Stiffness modifiers for the FE direct results

The frame FE (columns, beams, walls as wide columns...): the

reduction of stiffness is assigned for the moments of inertia
about axis 2 (or z) and axis 3 (or y).
The slabs (represented by plate of shell FE) the reduction of
stiffness is assigned for the flexural movements m11 (or mxx) and
m22 (or myy).

For the design of reinforced concrete slabs, the torsion moment

m12 (or mxy) should be taken into consideration. If this is not
being done than the slab torsion stiffness should be reduced to
null (0.001). However, if the slab analysis and design are
performed in an integrated software which account for torsion,
than no modification of the torsion stiffness need to be done.

16.2 Stiffness modifiers for the FE indirect shell results

When shell FE represent walls and wall-beams, the modification of

the stiffness modifier, the out of-plane bending along m11 (mxx)
and m22 (myy), will not affect the in-plane main flexural moment
M3 (My) generated from normal stresses s22 (syy) for the walls
(Figure 24), and s11 (sxx) for the wall-beam (Figure 41). The
modification of the stiffness modifier components should
therefore be as follow:

For The wall-beam: the reduction is assigned to membrane f11

(sxx) direction.

For The structural walls and the core-walls: the reduction is

assigned to membrane f22 (syy) direction (1), bending m22
(myy) direction, and bending m11 (mxx) direction (2).
It is to note that when reducing the membrane f22 (syy) modifier
in order to reduce the flexural stiffness for the in-plane moments,
this reduces also the axial stiffness of the walls; thus resulting in
an underestimation of design axial forces of the walls due to the
gravity (dead and live) loads. The columns axial stiffness should

be assigned same reduction as for the wall to account for the
reduction of the walls axial capacity.
Where the floor slabs are assigned rigid diaphragm behavior (no
in-plane moments are generated), m11 (mxx) has no significant
value and may be omitted.

17. Fixity Level for Seismic Analysis

When subjected to lateral earthquake forces, the fixity level of the building
may be defined as the level of maximum internal forces, or the level of
minimum displacements. Based on this definition, the fixity level may not
be necessarily the same as the foundations level, especially for buildings
with basement floors connected to the basement peripheral walls.

In most situations, when the basement floors are connected to the

peripheral basement walls ( the retaining walls) the ground level
represents the fixity level of the building with the reduction of the
earthquake moments on the structural resisting system of the building,
due to the contribution of the basement wall flexural stiffness.

Figure 43. Effect of Basement Floors on the Moment Diagram due to

Lateral Forces

However, during the design phase of the vertical elements, it should be

taken into account the fact that as the earthquake moment decreases

below the ground level, the axial gravity forces increase, and therefore
the design may be governed by maximum moment at ground level or
maximum axial at lower basement levels.

18. Diaphragm behavior of floor slabs

The effects of the lateral forces are commonly related to location of the
applied forces. This in turn is related to specific geometrical points such
as the center of mass (COM), and the center of rotation (COR).

The Center Of Mass represents the location of the resultant of floor mass
i.e. the center of slab area when the mass is uniformly distributed, and
the related vertical elements masses. The vertical element masses
include half the vertical elements height below the slab, and half the
height above slab as shown in the next figure. The vertical element mass
is considered as the center of gravity of the section.

Floors lumped- masses Masses at a floor level

Figure 44. Lumped Masses and the C.O.M

The Center of Rotation represents the center of inertia when the

resisting system to lateral forces consists of shear walls, core walls,
cantilevered columns) or the center of shear rigidity for the frame
resisting system. The COR location is defined as the resultant of vertical
elements inertia (or shear rigidity). The inertia of vertical elements is
located at the center area of solid sections (rectangular, circular.) or
the shear center for the thin walled sections (core walls).

The position of the COM or the COI may be determined considering
arbitrary origin as shown in the next figure 45 for the determination of
the COR.

Figure 45. Center of Rotation

For the study of the building response to lateral forces as wind pressure,
earthquakes, earth pressure. (Except the temperature effects),
diaphragm behavior is assigned to the floor slabs. The rigid diaphragm
behavior may be explained by the following figure 46.

Figure 46. Movement of Diaphragm due to Lateral Forces

Points A and B have original coordinates (xA, yA), (xB, yB) with respect
to a reference point O, and the angel AOB. When the floor slab is
subjected to horizontal force and torsion (in-plane) moment, the new
coordinates of A' (xA, yA),B' (xB, yB) and are defined in the deformed

If: xA= xA; yA= yA; xB= xB; yB= yB; and =, than A, B, O (and all
slab points) are moved with the same degrees of freedom (2
displacements UX, UY, and one rotation RZ) and the slab is behaving as
rigid diaphragm.

The assignment of diaphragm to floor slab has the main advantage of

reducing the numbers of unknowns (degrees of freedom) for each slab
point from 6 times the number of joints to 3, which results in reduction
of the runtime of the analysis. In addition, the diaphragm extent is used
in Etabs to evaluate the wind forces at the different story slabs levels.

The diaphragm behavior cannot be assigned to floor slabs for the

analysis of loads that generate in-plane forces or deformation such as
the temperature gradient and the prestressed forces.

The diaphragm represents an infinitely in-plan (horizontal) stiffness of

the floor slab. When the in-plane stiffness is reduced by any factor, or in
case of uncertainty of the extremely in-plan slab stiffness, semi-rigid or
flexible diaphragm behavior should be assigned to the floor slab.

Rigid diaphragm is not applicable for the following cases.

The opening area in slab exceeds 50% of the floor area

The strip slab shape

Figure 47. Non-Diaphragm Behavior due to Slab Shape

Another criteria for the use of rigid diaphragm behavior, is when the
maximum lateral displacement in a floor slab exceeds 20 percent the
average displacement at the same floor slab.

19. Connectivity of Vertical to Horizontal Structural Elements

By default, the connectivity of the structural finite elements in the

numerical models is of rigid type, and may be transformed to released or
partially released connection types. However, these types of connectivity
do not effectively represent the accurate behavior of connections in the
executed structures (namely the concrete structures) due to the following

a) The generated forces within the connecting joint are based on

perfect elastic behavior of the material (Hooks low) and gross
section properties of the connected elements. Yet at certain level of
stresses, the material behaves non-linearly, and cracks of concrete
sections start to appear leading to reduction of the sections inertia.
Same phenomena may be generated in plastic zones of the
elements, away from the connectivity joint, due to excessive reversal
shear or normal stresses.

Moreover, the use of stiffness modifiers to account for the reduction

of elements stiffness constitutes also an approximation since it is
based on the consideration of same uniform- reduction of the
stiffness along the element length. The realistic behavior generates
reduction of inertia (due to cracking) that varies within the same
element from section to another in accordance to the stresses

b) The common execution detailing practice of the horizontal-to-

vertical connection where no continuity in reinforcement is
provided. The floor slabs and beams are typically detailed as pin
supported by the columns and walls, as shown in the next figures.

A quasi hinge behavior is developed for the shown typical detail

unless the development length of rebar is enough extended to allow
for fixed or partially fixed joint behavior.

Figure 48. Vertical to Horizontal Elements connectivity types

The rigid -by default- connectivity of the vertical elements to the

horizontal elements at top floor level generates moments that
govern the design of the vertical elements at this level. The ratio of
reinforcement of the vertical elements, at this level, commonly
exceeds the ratio at several floors below. The vertical element can
be assigned end release to prevent the generation of moments at
the connecting joint. In the case where direct end release for walls
(or slab) is not available in the software as in Etabs for example, a
reduction of the out-of plane stiffness modifier (m22) leads to same
release results.

Figure 49. Effect of Rigid Vertical to Horizontal Elements Rigid

Connectivity at Top Level

c) The release of rotation at an element edge cannot be achieved in the
common practice of construction unless special element, like bearing
pads is used. This is due to the requirement of real hinges to reduce
the section moment of inertia of connected element edge to enable
free rotational movements.

20. Seismic additional eccentricity

Using the equivalent static analysis method for the determination of

seismic forces, the torsion additional eccentricity (as minimum of 5% of
the floor projected length perpendicular to the story seismic shear force)
should be considered as positive and negative respectively. By
considering two cases of loading (positive and negative eccentricities)
the analysis generates an envelope of internal forces for the resisting
system elements.

When seismic dynamic analysis is required, the static equivalent method

is performed without considering the additional eccentricity, since the
base shear of the static equivalent method needed to scale the
dynamic base shear- is independent of the additional eccentricity.

21. Special Considerations for tall buildings

21.1 Elastic Shortening and Inelastic Time Dependent Shortening

Shortening of structural elements is of elastic type due to the stresses from

gravity loads, and inelastic type due to creep (generated from the
sustained compressive stresses due to axial loads) and shrinkage (typical
concrete behavior namely function of the volume to surface ratio,
reinforcement ratio end environmental conditions).

Figure 55. Shortening of Vertical Elements

The effects of shortening should be taking into account, namely the

redistribution of the internal design forces, namely in the floor slab, due to
the difference of the vertical elements post-installation shortening.

Figure 56. Differential Shortening of Vertical Elements

The determination of the vertical elements shortening (elastic+ inelastic)
may be fully performed in some software, whereas part of shortening is
determined analytically and the remaining part numerically if the software
does not enable the whole procedure.

21.2 P-Delta analysis of buildings

The P-delta analysis of building accounts for the geometrical non-

linearity effects on the vertical elements. The next sketches show the
generated forces (Diagrams of normal forces, shear forces, and
moments respectively) of a vertical cantilever without geometrical
nonlinearity and with geometrical P-Delta analysis.

The effect of P-delta analysis may not have important effects on building
unless the stability coefficient ratio "" of the cumulative secondary to
main moment exceeds 0.1. According to the IBC 1617.4.6.2 "" is
determined by the equation:

= Px/VxhsxCd


Px = total unfactored vertical design load above level x

= design story drift occurring simultaneously with Vx
Vx = seismic shear force acting between levels x and x-1
hsx = story height below level x
Cd = deflection amplification factor

The use of the P-Delta analysis should be carefully conducted, and the
related parameters shall be reviewed (which vertical loads have
been involved, the convergence to analysis for the given number of

Figure 50. Internal Force Diagrams for Linear and Non-Linear Analysis

22. Modeling of Foundations

The modeling of the foundations is performed as thick plates set on

elastic supports. However, the following should be taken into
consideration The soil stiffness is determined with the soil subgrade
modulus "Ksub" that is commonly provided by the geotechnical study or
by approximate methods as equal to 120*qallowable or Es/B(1-2),.....

qallowable = soil bearing capacity (t/m2)
Es= soil modulus of elasticity
B = the least foundation planar size
= soil poisson's ratio

By using the subgrade modulus, the software generates springs
(representing the soil stiffness) with single partially restricted
degree of freedom parallel to the vertical global direction.

Lateral supports (pin, roller, or spring) should be assigned to the

foundation to prevent instability of the structure

The above motioned methods represent an approximation to the

soil-structure interaction behavior, since it does not account for
the main important factors:

o The non-linear behavior of the soil

o The shear deformation of the soil
o the mutual interaction behavior of the soil-structure
(redistribution of stresses in the upper structural system
and the soil)
o The effects of load from adjacent structures

23. Modeling of Piles

The bearing pile is commonly represented by spring with one -or multi-
D.O.F. The spring is assigned stiffness along the vertical and horizontal
directions for pile-foundation hinge connectivity, or springs along the
vertical, horizontal, and rotational directions for the pile-foundation rigid
connectivity type.

The vertical stiffness Kz of the spring represents the least value between
the reinforced concrete capacity and the geotechnical capacity (skin
capacity + end bearing capacity if exist).

The best evaluation of Kz value is determined from the load-bearing test,

which is commonly performed at the early stage of structure execution.
Therefore, a preliminary value of Kz should be adopted for the structural
study phase.

The preliminary value of Kz can be assumed as:

o Similar to the values from already tested piles of a nearby project

o From recommended geotechnical studies.

o Conservatively evaluated as the axial stiffness of the concrete pile
F= Kz allowable Kz = F/ allowable

F= Apile*conc
Apile = Cross section area of pile = d2/4
d = Pile diameter
conc = Allowable normal stress of concrete assumed limited to 0.25f'c
f'c = Compressive strength of concrete
allowable = Allowable settlement of pile that may be assumed as 0.01d
Kz = d2* 0.25 f'c/(4*0.01d) 20*f'c*d

In the absence of accurate method to evaluate the horizontal stiffness

(Kx and Ky) it may be assigned an approximate value of 0.1 Kz.

Its highly recommended to determinate the values of the pile stiffness

from an interactive structural-geotechnical study.

A better modeling of the pile may be obtained by rigidly connecting

points of the foundation on the circumference of the pile to the point

Figure 51. Modeling of Soil-Pile Interaction

Higher accuracy of pile behavior may be obtained with non-linear Kz

24. Modeling of Pile-Raft foundation

The modeling of the pile-raft foundation may be performed with springs

in accordance to the above-mentioned approaches. However, the large
difference between the pile and the soil vertical spring stiffness should
be taken into consideration. Otherwise, the analysis results in
overestimation of the soil spring contribution to support the loads
transmitted to the soil.

There are several approximate ways to account for this difference, such

Neglecting the soil vertical stiffness in the case where the piles are
grid-closely-type distributed

Assigning reduced vertical stiffness to the soil between piles

Neglecting the soil stiffness in the zones surrounding the piles and
considering full soil stiffness outside these zones in the case of
spaced distribution of piles

25. Warnings

Warnings in structural numerical analysis may be generated by many

reasons such as the boundary conditions, the F.E mesh (size, shape
irregularity, connectivity). In some cases, warnings do not affect the
structural response and may be ignored, nevertheless, its preferable to
eliminate this warnings. In other cases, warnings importantly affect the
analysis results and should be treated.

The structure may be unstable without warning massage during the run
of the analysis. This may be due to excessive movement of the structure
or a part of it. It is useful to run a preliminary modal analysis to check
the stability, if there is very large periods than the structure is unstable
to one (or more than one) of the following reasons:

Loss of stiffness

Defining of the boundary conditions

Defining of masses

Loss of accuracy

If caused by the loss of stiffness, the mode shape of the large period
indicates where the instability occurs.

The next cases shows examples of instability warning cases

25.1 Boundary conditions

The boundary conditions may generate geometrical instability of the

structure or the supporting joints, and therefore warnings, as illustrated
in the following cases.


52. Single Span with by Sliding Supports


Figure 53. Slab on Grade (foundation) Supported by Vertical Springs


Figure 54. Double Hinged Element

25.2 Loss of accuracy

Most software (as Etabs) performs arithmetic calculations with 15 digits of

accuracy. 3 cases might be encountered:

1. If the loss of accuracy is less than 6 digits, it is considered negligible

by the software and won't be reported

2. If the loss of accuracy is above 11 digits, the software will give an

error message and the running is aborted.

3. If the loss of accuracy is between 6 and 11 digits, the global force

balance relative error should be checked for each load case to be
relatively small (within 1% for example). this can be checked in the
*.out file, the *.log file, or equivalent.

25.3 Negative stiffness

The warning due to negative stiffness results commonly for unstable

structure, or structures with P-Delta activated and there are short elements
in compression. The factors related to the stability (as the boundary
conditions and the stiffness) should be revised.

26. Import of geometrical data from AutoCAD Files

The geometrical structural data that are used for the numerical model
may be prepared from the architectural drawings following the below
recommended steps:

Four new layers are to be created in the AutoCAD architectural files for
th2e: slabs (S-Slab), Walls (S-Wall), Columns (S-Column), and Openings

The new structure layers are used to create the contour of the
corresponding elements i.e. Slabs, Walls, Columns, and Openings. All
contour lines are to be closed polyline type.

Each floor slab is exported into a new file with a reference point (same
horizontal coordinates point at all levels) at origin (coordinates 0, 0, 0).
The reference point should be architecturally fixed such as an inner
corner of the lift shaft or staircase.

The floor slab components are to be scaled to 1 unit length= 1m

The new file is to be saved as dxf file (preferably an old AutoCAD

version) with the same architectural floor slab label

Same above procedure is repeated for the floor slabs of different


Figure 57. Slab on Grade

Figure 58. Slab on Grade

Figure 59. Slab on Grade

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