How do buildings fall?
Grant will help professor show students
how structures collapse
by Jenny Gerow
Martini, who teaches structural design and digital media,
is developing software, called Arcade, that will expand architecture
and engineering students understanding of how structures
collapse. Students need to understand what will happen if
a building loses a column or two, and that the failure of
one structural element does not mean the building will fall
down, Martini says. The Arcade image, below, is a detail of
a simulation of a truss structure sinking and collapsing into
By Jane Ford
cars, explosions, buildings falling down and the fluid movement
of figures are the hallmark of games and animation on todays
creators of state-of-the-art programs such as Sodaplay use physics
engines programs that simulate Newtons laws of motion
and real-time response of materials to loads to create
the realistic motion that users find so engaging.
gaming industry will do whatever they can to make a better game,
said Kirk Martini, U.Va. associate professor of architecture
who teaches structural design and digital media. But they
are not concerned with technical accuracy. They want it to look
is concerned with technical accuracy. But he wants to create a
tool to teach structural engineering that would be as much fun
as computer games.
Employing the same physics engine technology, Martini is developing
software that will expand architecture and engineering students
understanding of how structures collapse.
by a $58,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Martini
will develop an interactive computer-based program that will analyze
dynamic forces on structural elements such as trusses, beams and
columns. Students will be able to test a structure in real-time
analysis under virtually real conditions. The goal is to create
a program with engineering rigor, modeling realistic structures
with engineering accuracy.
long-range objective of the project is to improve structural education
by instilling in students a much stronger understanding of non-linear
behavior, said Martini. He foresees using an exercise manual
with examples and modules on various topics, which will allow
the material to be easily incorporated into existing engineering
structural engineering curriculum at the undergraduate level spends
little time addressing the behavior of structural systems under
extreme conditions, such as blasts, fires and earthquakes,
said Martini. The Oklahoma City bombing and Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks underscored the fact that bad things happen, and students
need to understand what will happen if a building loses a column
engineers currently are designing with these factors in mind,
He emphasized that students need to understand that the failure
of one element does not mean the building will fall down.
computer programs that look at these phenomena stop when the first
member fails. Martinis program will follow the event through
so that safeguards and contingencies can be considered.
program, called Arcade, is in the prototype stage and will be
under development in 2003. Martini and engineering professors
Thomas Baber and Jose Gomez will spend another year testing it
in undergraduate architecture and engineering structure classes.
spend a lot of time with numbers computing and evaluating
structures, said Baber. Students have trouble visualizing
the responses of structures. The idea of a program like this is
to bring the visual back in the classroom and extend their intuition
of what will happen.