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HISTORICAL-TECHNICAL SERIES

Excerpts From the Lectures of Gustave Magnel

Gustave Magnel

(1889-1955)

“A theory should be made as simple as possible but not so simple that it does not comform with reality.”

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Albert Einstein

Professor Gustave Magnel of Belgium, designer of the Walnut Lane Memorial Bridge (America’s first major prestressed concrete structure) was largely responsible for introducing prestressed concrete to the United States. The late great teacher and eminent practicing engineer from the University of Ghent (Belgium) contributed enormously to the acceptance and development of prestressed concrete worldwide. Beyond that, however, as attested unanimously by all of his students, he was the most articulate teacher of his time. Here, in slightly edited form, are excerpts from some of his memorable lectures.

• On Complicated Formulas

When I first gave lectures, I used to cover the blackboard with complicated formulas – not on such a tiny one as this, but on a big blackboard which has several sections such as are found in the lecture rooms of the Belgian University. I was so proud of myself because I thought I was very clever. But now, since I am older, I have un- derstood that writing complicated for- mulas does not really solve any practi- cal problems.

• In Explaining the Action

of Prestressing in a Statically Determinate Beam

Take the simple case of a beam rest- ing on two supports. If we apply a pre- stress force at the ends of the beam

(below the neutral axis), we notice that the beam cambers upwards due to the prestressing moment (prestress force × its eccentricity). At the com- pletion of prestressing, the beam still rests on the two end supports. What are the reactions on those two end supports? Well, if everything is sym- metrical, the reaction at each support is equal to one-half the weight of the beam. What else could it be? And whether we apply a very large pre- stress force or a small one, each reac- tion is always equal to one-half the weight of the beam. It is statically de- terminate.

• On the Definition of Limit Design

For years and until very recently, all engineers made designs based on cal-

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culations of stresses. They take a nice sheet of paper – very clean – and they make very clever calculations on them and they come to the conclusion that in that beam the concrete stress is 700 psi – or whatever it is – and the steel stress is 18,000 psi. And, they are satisfied – if those figures comply with the regu- lations or with specifications or the code, or whatever one calls them – en- gineers are satisfied with that. But, if you think that the beam is satisfied – if you think the beam takes any account of what you have written in those sheets – even if there are no mistakes – no arithmetical mistakes, numerical mistakes on those sheets – well, then you are wrong! Who is the authority who knows about that? There is only one authority in the world who knows what happens in a beam – and that is the beam itself. My method is to go directly to the beam and ask it, “Say, my dear beam, tell me what are your stresses? What is your moment of rupture?”

• On Hooke’s Law

Yes, indeed, engineers don’t know anything else – sure enough they mod- ify it, they call it the Theorem of Three Moments, Theory of Least Work, and Formulas for Bending and Torsion. But it is always Hooke’s Law (σ = Eε), whether written in red or green, En- glish, German or Chinese – or in all languages. But, it is always the same thing, and that thing is wrong! We can- not apply Hooke’s Law once the loads are so high that the beam cracks and the materials are in a state of partial plasticity; Hooke’s Law doesn’t apply any more. And, if one tries to make theories at that stage of beam loading – well, one finds immediately that it is very difficult, because we do not know the behavior of concrete and steel in the range between the cracking point and the breaking point.

• On Beam Design

Designing a beam is a question of proportion – engineering is not a sci- ence – it’s an art. You must have some experience to draw upon; otherwise, you’ll never do anything. A man, who studies very thoroughly my book on prestressed concrete, can make per-

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haps a design, but it will be a foolish design – not an economical design. You must have done it over and over again, and have some practical experi- ence before you consider it. And then, you have to determine the depth of the beam – well, that’s the only element I must take arbitrarily. Ja, arbitrarily. But in practice it is not – generally, the depth is something that you have to maintain…

• In Explaining Continuity in a Prestressed Beam

Let us now consider a continuous beam having two equal spans. We pre- stress the beam with tendons going from one end to the other. Assume for the time being that the central support is missing – the beam would also curve upward like the simply sup- ported beam. But the central support is there and it says to the beam, “Hey, my little beam, please, you may not lift up for I’m keeping you down.” In other words, the support can only keep that beam down by exerting an exter- nal force, i.e., an anchorage force downward – and that is only possible due to simple statics: if we have at each of the outside supports an up- ward reaction equal to one-half of the anchorage force. With these new forces acting on the beam, we have a new kind of bending moment diagram. In fact, it means that we get so-called “secondary mo- ments” in the beam. These secondary moments are great or small, positive or negative, depending upon the mag- nitude and shape of the stressed ten- don and the cross section of the beam. We should emphasize the fact that the term “secondary” is a misnomer be- cause the “secondary moments” can be fairly large.

• On Safety Factors

Everyone loves to talk about safety factors but nothing is more compli- cated or confusing. It is meaningless to talk about safety factors unless you explain what it is related to for a par- ticular case. (Does it, for example, re- late to cracking, breaking or fatigue strength?) To just say that you have a safety factor of 2, 2.5, 2.7, or 3 has no meaning. That depends more on one’s

bank account! Ja, if you can afford to

spend a lot of money – if you are, say, the president of General Motors or somebody like that, you see it doesn’t matter how strong you make the beam

– you can afford to have a safety fac-

tor of three or more. However, if you have a very tight budget, you will probably use a safety factor of two (but it must be at least two). If we knew, for example, that we could place on a beam twice the work- ing load – well, we would sleep very quietly during the night. We would say – well, nobody will put twice the working load on the beam, and if somebody does, we will “hang” him for it! Let the beam then collapse – I, the engineer, am no longer responsi- ble. But, we must develop a theory which will allow us to calculate for a

given cross-section at midspan, say, of

a simply supported beam, the moment

of rupture – that’s what we must know

for that beam.

• On Model Testing

If you want to derive meaningful conclusions, perform your tests on real, big beams (60, 70, 100 or 150-ft spans) – not toys of 3 or 4 ft long, 2 or 3 in. deep, which I call “confidential” beams.

• On False Prophets

Beware of people who are trying to sell you new patents or prestressing systems. Most of the time these people know very little about engineering or prestressing principles. These devices are only worth considering after full- scale testing.

• On Professional Ethics

If you cannot design a prestressed concrete structure on a sound and eco- nomical basis, don’t build it! Above all, be an engineer with a professional conscience. Make the structure right!

[Republished from “Magnel’s Impact on the Advent of Prestressed Concrete,” by Charles C. Zollman, PCI JOURNAL, V. 23, No. 3, May-June 1978, pp. 32-33, and from “Commemoration of Magnel’s 100th Birthday Anniversary,” PCI JOURNAL, V. 35, No. 3, pp. 78-81.]

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HISTORICAL-TECHNICAL SERIES

What It takes to Convert Prestressed Concrete Into a Preferred Construction Material

Arthur R. Anderson

(1910-1995)

“They copied all they could follow but they could not copy my mind so I left them sweating and swearing a year and a half behind.”

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Rudyard Kipling

The late Art Anderson, co-founder of Concrete Technology Corporation and ABAM Engineers, Inc., Tacoma, Washington, was a visionary and a major pioneer of the precast, prestressed concrete industry. After obtaining a BS degree in civil engineering from the University of Washington, he went on to earn a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1949, he performed the instrumentation of the prototype girder for the Walnut Lane Bridge. He then became famous for designing and building some of the most imaginative prestressed concrete structures such as the 21-story Norton Building, the Disney Monorail and the ARCO floating vessel. Later, Dr. Anderson served as president of both the ACI and PCI. A prolific writer, he was the author of numerous technical papers, many of which appeared in the PCI JOURNAL. In recognition of Anderson’s enormous contributions to the industry and Institute, PCI awarded him the Medal of Honor and Fellow Award. Written about fifty years ago, many of the ideas presented in this article are still pertinent today.

A new building material is mak-

ing its impact on architecture,

engineering and construction.

Only recently, the prestigious Wall Street Journal featured a front page column under the headline “Pre- stressed Concrete Stars as a Substitute for Scarce Steel Beams.” No one will doubt that the steel shortage has created a market for pre- stressed concrete. However, anyone giving serious consideration to enter- ing the prestressed concrete business

should have more than a structural steel shortage as an incentive for “jumping in.” During the past few years, pre- stressed concrete has clearly grown from a substitute material to a recog- nized and indeed preferred construction method for many types of structures. To build a successful prestressed concrete business, a potential in- vestor should have answers to the following questions:

1. What is the potential market?

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2. How can this market be devel-

oped; and how much of it can I rea- sonably expect to get?

3. What types of products should the

plant manufacture?

4. What are the technological as-

pects, and what kind of people consti- tute the successful organization of a successful prestressed concrete busi- ness?

5. What kind of plant, equipment,

and facilities are required?

6. How much land is required for a

suitable plant site?

7. How much will it cost?

For an investor, Questions 1 and 2 are the most important to consider. In the foreseeable future, the market potential for prestressed concrete ap- pears excellent. The multi-billion dol- lar federal highway program will re- quire thousands of structures, ideally constructed from prestressed concrete. New construction of schools, offices and other public buildings, sports fa- cilities and other public buildings will continue at a high rate because of the continuing population growth in the United States. Expansion in the industry goes ahead at top level, to keep pace with the increasing market for products de- manded by a nation whose standard of living is constantly rising. Thus, a tremendous potential market for basic

structural elements in prestressed con- crete already exists. Assuming that an investor decides to get into the prestressing business, he should get the best technical advice on how to get started. For example, he should understand the difference be- tween post-tensioning and pretension- ing, know the advantages of both sys- tems and how they interact with each other. He should determine whether he wants to pursue an “on-the-job” or factory type of production. Both meth- ods will have their place in the future of the American construction industry. I believe that the high standard of living in the United States has resulted from mass production of consumer goods in well-managed factories with production-line methods (as was pio- neered by the automobile industry). For this reason, the future for the long range success of prestressed concrete should also be based on mass produc-

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tion in a factory. This leads up to Question 2 above, namely, “How can this market be developed?” Promoting and selling prestressed concrete is highly technical. It would be extremely difficult for a salesman to make calls on prospective cus- tomers, and bring back a book full of orders. On the contrary, selling pre- stressed concrete must start at the out- set of the design of a new project, i.e., trying to get a voice at the table where the big decisions are made. Selling of this kind requires a com- pany representative capable of calling on engineers and architects at the pre- liminary design stage. The sales repre- sentative should be qualified to dis- cuss intelligently the designer’s problems; and above all, he must be well-armed with cost data. Just as with all types of engineering sales, it is the person best equipped with good tech- nical answers who has the best chance of eventually getting the order for his company. From my experience, progress in factory-produced prestressed concrete construction will be tremendously in- fluenced by the ability and imagina- tion of designers, namely, the archi- tects and engineers. Fortunate indeed is the company that has on its staff a design consultant with enough cre- ative ability and imagination to de- velop structures with architectural composition of enduring beauty de- rived from the repetition of a few basic standard elements – in this case, from precast and prestressed concrete produced by mass production. Thus, one of the big selling jobs in the precast, prestressed concrete business is really “how to design it.” It is important to keep the number of product types to a minimum and the number of each type a maximum, and equally important to consider details of the connections in the field. A good designer has a feeling for problems of connecting the structural elements, and a knowledge of how much a crane can lift at a given radius and what kind of dimensional toler- ances to allow in precast concrete ele- ments. He understands the forces and movements caused by temperature changes as well as those caused by de- flection due to design loads.

A good designer must also develop

a sense of balance between material

and labor costs. Granted that the American economy attaches a pre- mium to labor cost as contrasted with

the European practice of trying to save every pound of material; yet I have seen many examples of prestressed concrete structures in the United States where a considerable amount of material could have been saved with- out increasing the labor costs. You may well ask, “Why all the fuss about design to sell prestressed concrete?” The answer to this question goes back to the opening paragraph in this article regarding the use of pre- stressed concrete as a substitute mate- rial for scarce steel. When steel be- comes plentiful again, where will the market be for prestressed concrete? Obviously, to be competitive with steel or other construction materials, prestressed concrete must become a preferred material of construction, and this idea must be “sold” to the people who do the design.

It will be up to the manufacturers of

prestressed concrete to see that the de- signers are sold. To do this:

• The company looking for a market

in prestressed concrete must be pre-

pared to develop standard structural sections comparable to the standard rolled steel sections.

• Moreover, the company must be in

a position to produce these sections to

about these standard sections to those who would be in a position to specify them.

• The company must be able to offer

its products at a competitive price. • Lastly, and most importantly, the company must have a knowledgeable technical salesman to call upon ar-

chitects and engineers at the prelimi- nary and actual design phases of a project.

If we vigorously pursue the above, I

have no doubt at all that the future of precast, prestressed concrete will be very promising indeed.

[Note: Republished from “An Adventure in Prestressed Concrete,” by Arthur R. Anderson, PCI JOURNAL, V. 24, No. 5, September-October 1979, pp. 90-113.]

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