What is Structural Analysis?

Eric Tallberg

Architects, builders, construction supervisors, users, and occupants of a structure all depend on accurate structural analysis in determining the physical integrity of a structure. The specific structure may be a house, an office building, a bridge, tunnel, tower, or even an airplane or ship. Structural analysis ensures that the particular structural design will withstand the stresses and forces, both internal and external, that it is designed for. Thus, known parameters are implemented in examining the safety and longevity factors of a particular structure. As well, structural analysis is often relied on in determining the cause of structural failure.

Structural analysis is vitally important when designing skyscrapers.
Structural analysis is vitally important when designing skyscrapers.

The analysis of a structure must reflect an accurate estimate of all the anticipated strengths and weaknesses of a structure. The analysis will determine volume limits, as well as linear and surface strengths and weaknesses of structural components, including the strength of columns, walls, connectors, beams, braces, and roofs. Structural analysis is based, in large part, on immutable physical laws. A correct structural analysis most often results in the over-building of a structure.

Both the Hoover Dam and the nearby Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge undergo regular structural analysis.
Both the Hoover Dam and the nearby Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge undergo regular structural analysis.

In addition to the inflexible physical limits of load-bearing capability, tensile strength, and manufacturing properties of construction materials, mathematics, testing, computations, and theory are each a distinct and important aspect in structural analysis. Each design and material component of a structure is subject to its own set of physical laws. Even the stability of the surface on which the structure will stand, wind conditions, and impact resistance of the various components of a structure is examined in preparing a structural analysis.

Structural engineers, those responsible for the analysis of a structure, are highly educated and trained to decipher the complexities of materials capabilities, geometric design, and stress factors — both intended and actual — determining the feasibility of a particular structural design. Using education, experience, and modern structural software, structural engineers, architects, and builders work in concert to erect a structure that will resist failure. The structural engineer, as is his function, must often overriding the fiscal concerns of the builder, as well as the reining in aesthetic fancies of the designer or architect.

Structural analysis has a history dating back well over 2000 years. The ancient Greeks and Romans used the analysis of load-bearing materials, force, and stress to build the structures of antiquity, a number of which remain intact today. The Great Wall of China is another example of ancient architecture surviving today due to a correct analysis of the projected integrity of structural components. It is apparent that though building materials and structural design aesthetics have changed radically over the centuries, the basic mathematical analysis of structural elements remains the same.

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