Forces on Buildings

Forces that act on Buildings

This article will discuss the forces that may act on a building and how they effect it.

A force on a structure is the weight or pressure exerted on a structure but can be further defined to the type of force.

This may be in the form of gravity ie the weight of a building and its contents, the wind or weather eg wind, snow or other phenomenon such as earthquakes or tremors.

Heat and cold may also act on the building and exert thermal movement on the structure but in this instance we will keep it limited to gravity and weather and may touch on seismic bracing.

The balance for stability of the building is relied upon by a structure resisting these forces.

Passive forces resist these active forces

Active = imposed forces
Passive = opposed forces or the balancing force from the structure.

The Forces Defined

Compression = the force that causes the structural member to shorten and can
result in failure due to crushing.

Tension = the force that causes elongation or lengthening of the member (tensile

Torsion = the force that results in a twisting action on a member.

Shear = the combination of two forces acting in opposition to each other resulting
in a sliding or tearing tendency.

Elasticity = Stress/Strain

Within interior design all of theses forces will act on the structure you build in the interior. One of the most important items to identify in interior design, is which of the existing walls that you build within are structural. For obvious reasons these cannot be altered in anyway without the advice of a registered structural engineer of at the very least you using your qualification in construction knowledge identifying the forces that may be imposed on the wall. In most cases when dealing with light construction such as timber framing in a single or two story building building standards such as NZ3604 ( the New Zealand building code for light timber framed buildings) is more than adequate. I use New Zealand as an example because of its very high earthquake and wind design standards. California is similar with its earthquake standards. Both of these locations are prone to strong earthquakes and the resulting impact on buildings can be devastating to the occupants.

The forces that are notable are shear and tension and torsion and compression. Wind can place a serious load on a building from any direction with the resulting force that is pushing the building resisted by shear walls. Earthquakes are quite a different story with not only shear walls required for lateral movement but the compression and tension caused by ground acceleration vertically highly significant and causing structure to fail. This is very particular to the interior designer should they wish to “open up the space” and care and the correct advice must be gained before even contemplating the design alteration. If anything the designer should consider the added benefits of the type of construction they use within the building adding to the structural integrity of the building.


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