What are the Different Types of Building Structure?
FOUR BUILDING STRUCTURES
Today we're talking about what materials our building structure is made from. There's an unlimited amount of building materials that exist, and products and approaches are being developed all the time. However, the far majority of buildings built today use at least one of four fundamental building structures.
These different materials and different structure types are masonry, concrete, steel, and wood.
STONE & CLAY
Starting with masonry, which is perhaps the origin of all building materials, is the method of using clay, brick, stone or block by stacking. This method appears in what we deem prehistoric times within cave structures.
The prevailing use of masonry construction has long been influenced by the available materials local to an area. As an example, ancient Egyptian temples were built of limestone, sandstone and other rocks quarried from the hills right along the Nile river. Persian Empire structures were made of sun dried bricks of the clay deposits that were available nearby.
Stone and clay was one of the primary building materials throughout the Middle Ages and later on. It really wasn't until concrete with the Romans that this form of masonry was overtaken as the main form of building structure.
Let’s talk on concrete.
Concrete has played a role in construction since ancient times. As early as the 7th century BC, different civilizations combined rock or an aggregate with cement which is a binding agent that sets, hardens and binds materials together with water to create early forms of concrete. With the growth of the Roman Empire, concrete use flourished especially in the 5th to 3rd century BC. Concrete was seen as a new and revolutionary building material that quickly hardened into a rigid form and was free of the internal strains that was problematic for structures that were made only of stone or brick. It was the use of concrete that allowed the Romans to perfect their Roman arch, which became a fundamental form in Roman architecture.
Modern concrete of today differs from ancient Roman concrete. In that the mixes of today are more consistent and homogeneous. Concrete today can be formed and poured into forms rather than hand layering with aggregate. The second difference is that modern concrete uses reinforcing steel within the concrete itself, which gives it tensile strength. When we add the reinforcing steel, we call that reinforced concrete. When combined as reinforced concrete, this tensile strength offers significant advantages structurally as the concrete has a way to prevent pulling away from itself.
Now let’s talk about steel. Steel itself is made from taking iron and adding carbon to it at very high temperatures. Steel has a high tensile strength and compression strength, which provides many advantages structurally.
Steel is better suited as a structural element over iron because the added carbon acts as a hardening agent and allows the steel to be less ductile. It’s essentially stronger and more rigid.
A quick background on the development of steel -
Relative to other building materials, steel is significantly lighter for its strength than a material light concrete. In the 1880s in the United States with the industrial revolution and manufacturing booming, there was a demand for more and more space within urban geographic centers. With this pressure on the land value, there is a significant interest in growing buildings taller to provide more floor space for a given building footprint. This was especially true in Chicago, Illinois, which had a rapidly growing central business district where the demand for the land was so high and there was an interest in moving upwards. Well, other metropolitan areas were booming as well, so why Chicago? Even here, fire played a role. The great Chicago Fire in October 1871 devastated the city destroying roughly 3.3 square miles in over 17,000 structures. But what rose from the ashes was in need for new construction, lots of usable area, and fire-resistant features.
Nearly all metal structures like the home insurance company building in 1885 began using cast iron columns with wrought iron beams. But the wait combined with the masonry exteriors still caused challenges with supporting foundations and limited the ability of a building to grow vertically. Chicago also has some unique challenges with the soil conditions in that area. Within a decade though, more mature high-rise building technology was coming underway. The rolled steel I-beam or what we today call W-shapes provided a better all-around solution. It was strong, lightweight, and combined with the development of the electric powered elevator allowed buildings to rise upward higher than ever before. That’s where we get our high-rises and skyscrapers of today.
Our last primary structure is wood.
Wood has been used as a building material throughout much of human history. While we don't know with precision when timber began as a mainstream construction material, there's evidence to suggest that freestanding structures were built of timber as early as 10,000 years ago. Wood has unique features that make it a common choice of builders today. It can be considered environmentally friendly with renewable and sustainable foresting practices. When in controlled environments, it can be durable, and it can be less energy intensive and less expensive than its steel or concrete counterpart. And for its weight, wood is strong and good in both compression and tension.
In many parts of the world today, wood is the most common choice for residential construction. We are also seeing a resurgence of wood as a building material for commercial and high-rise structures. The use of wood as a sustainable material and combined with laminated arrangements give it strength and reduces the carbon footprint for a more eco-friendly approach to building structure. What was a buzzword throughout the last decade, mass timber construction is now formally being incorporated into many building codes and adopted as a more mainstream option for major building construction.
In summary, we have four primary types of structure: masonry, concrete, steel, and wood. Each with its own advantages and uses throughout our history of construction.
In the next segment, we'll talk about the different parts of a building structure and begin to introduce the fundamentals of how we actually construct buildings using these different types of structures.
I'm Joe Meyer, this is MeyerFire University.
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