Tall concrete buildings subject to vertically moving fires: A case study approach
Fire in buildings can have a severe impact in terms of both human safety and potential economic loss. This is especially true in the case of fires of such severity that the building structure is damaged. Concrete buildings are traditionally regarded as safe in a fire situation as concrete is non-flammable and exhibits highly insulating material properties. The majority of current research relating to the impact of fire on structures examines other forms of construction. Research of concrete in fire is generally limited to investigation and testing of individual members in order to understand the often complex interactions exhibited by concrete as a material at high temperatures. This research seeks to redress the balance by using a systematic approach to examine effects of fire on a holistic concrete structure in simplified but realistic temperature exposures. The research utilises evidence and structural information from the Windsor Tower in Madrid, which suffered a major fire in February 2005 with partial collapse in some areas of the structure. The fire spread throughout the building, travelling both upwards and downwards. Computer modelling was used extensively. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) analysis was used to explore likely fire temperature and duration in localised areas. Structural Finite Element Modelling (FEM) was used to develop a hierarchy of models, beginning with simple structural forms and progressing logically to more detailed structures. This produced a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the reaction of the structure to fire for comparison to the real, observable damage to the building and assessment of generic failure behaviours. The structural model produced was used with a number of variations in support condition, fire spread rate and extent, and fire protection. It was found that for a structure of this type, structural stiffness of the concrete floors was insufficient to compensate for the loss of strength in heated steel members where there was no alternative load redistribution path. It was also found that in the case where an alternative load path exists, but involves steel members which have previously heated during the multiple-floor spread of the fire, the rate of fire spread has a critical effect on the structural stability.