How Fire Causes Office-Building Floors to Collapse


Engineers and technicians at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) spent months meticulously recreating the long concrete floors supported by steel beams commonly found in high-rise office buildings, only to deliberately set the structures ablaze, destroying them in a fraction of the time it took to build them.

These carefully planned experiments produced cracked concrete slabs and contorted steel beams, but from the rubble arose a wealth of new insights into how real-world structures behave and can eventually fail in uncontrolled building fires. The results of the study, reported in the Journal of Structural Engineering, indicate that structures built to code are not always equipped to survive the forces induced by extreme shifts in temperature, but the data gained here could help researchers develop and validate new design tools and building codes that bolster fire safety.

NIST engineers recreated sections of office building floors and burned them to find out how thermally induced loads cause them to fail. The data gained could help researchers develop predictive models and building codes for safer structures.

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