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Braced Frame Structures

- Types of bracing
- Modes of load transfer within the structure
- Hand calculation via member force
Hand calculation via drift analysis
Hand calculation via Virtual Work
Hand calculation via Moment-area and
shear drift approximation

Dr. Zaher Abou Saleh
Bracing a structural frame is one of the most effective ways of
resisting horizontal loads. Bracing joins the columns with the
girders and beams. This diagonal tie system transforms a tall
building into an equivalent vertical cantilevered truss system. The
braces and the girders act as the web of the vertical cantilever truss,
whilst the columns act as the chords.

Up to about the mid-1930s, bracing was the most important lateral

load resisting system known to engineers. The Statue of Liberty,
erected in New Yorks harbor in 1883 and designed by the French
structural engineer Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, was the largest
braced structure of its time. Eiffel used the same principle again to
design his famous Eiffel Tower in Paris five years later for the
French Revolutions Centennial Exposition of 1889. The next
famous structure was the Woolworth Tower, finished in 1913 at
lower Manhattan. It became the worlds tallest skyscraper (for
whom the term was coined) with its 57 stories and 792 feet in
height. The Woolworth Tower was surpassed in height in 1930 by
the Chrysler Building, located at mid-Manhattan, with 77 stories
and 1,046 feet in height. The next year, 1931, saw the completion of
the even taller Empire State Building a few blocks away with 102
stories and 1,250 feet in height. The figure to the left shows its
sectional view, with the bracing visible within the two most interior
bays of the tower. Most bracing is only one or two-story in height.
Recently, bracing has been made to cover ten to twenty stories in
height, and even become an explicit external architectural accent of
The Empire State Bldg.
the entire structure.
History of Bracing in the US.

- The Statue of Liberty.

The statute was a gift from France to commemorate the first 100 years of
independence of the US. It was designed and pre-fabricated in Paris by the
famous structural engineer, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. It was assembled in New
York in 1883, and became one of the first major braced structures.

- The Woolworth Tower.

This 57-story (792 ft) office building was finished in 1913. It became the worlds
tallest building until 1930.

- The Chrysler Building.

This beautiful 77-story (1,046 ft) building was finished in 1930, and became the
worlds tallest building until the next year. It has a stainless steel crowning dome
that remains one of the worlds most beautiful structures.

- The Empire State Building.

This building reached 102-stories (1,250 ft) and was finished in 1931. It remained
the worlds tallest until 1970, when the North Tower of the World Trade Center
was finished.
Types of Bracing. Bracing is placed so that the structure can resist shear and torque forces upon the
building. The location should be ideally as close to the perimeter as possible. However, the bracing
obstructs the placing of windows and doors. For that reason they were commonly placed in the
interior of the tower, around elevator, service and stair shafts, which remains satisfactory for mid-
rise structures. For taller, and slender buildings, the location of the bracing becomes critical. The
ideal single and double diagonals and K-braces are shown in figures (a) through (e) above. When
windows and doors must be used, the knee-bracing (f) through (l) is used, as well as other systems
shown in (m) through (p). However, these latter braces introduce bending moments into the top and
bottom girders, which become less stiff and less efficient than a fully triangulated brace, which carry
axial member forces only.
Lateral loads on buildings can come from opposite directions. Braces will therefore, be subjected to
both tensile and compressive stresses. The more stringent load is compression, because of the
possibility of buckling. Therefore it is better to use shorter braces, such as the K-types (also called
V-braces). A double-diagonal brace such as in figure (b) is assumed to buckle in compression, and
therefore the opposite diagonal must carry the full shear of the panel in tension.

A fully triangulated brace such as (b) means that the girders do not have to carry lateral loads, and
the floor framing can be light, efficient and repetitive throughout the height of the building.

Non-concentric (also known as eccentric) braces are ideal for seismic areas, because they provide
ductile behavior. Under normal lateral loads the brace is elastic, and reduced the building drift;
under overload the short link (f, g, k and l) in the beam between the brace connection and the
column becomes a fuse and intentionally deforms plastically in shear.
These one-story high K-braces are being used to stiffen the inner bents in a new office building.
Several examples of single and multi-story bracing at the 23-story Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital,
New York. A/E design by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Chicago, NY, and Zimmer Gunsul
Frasca (ZGF), Portland, OR.


The path of horizontal shear through braced web members is shown above. In the single diagonal
shown in (a) the brace is in axial compression (which shortens), thus placing the beams in tension
(which lengthen), thus giving rise to a shear deformation of the bent. In the double diagonal (b) the
forces in the braces at the joints are in equilibrium, thus relieving the girder of lateral loads. In the
K-brace (c) half of each girder is in compression and the other half in tension. The knee-brace in (d)
has placed the end parts of the girder in compression and tension, resulting in a double curvature
bending. Reversing the direction of the lateral load will reverse the stress in all these bents.

diagonals not

The path of gravity loading as the compressive forces shorten the vertical members down through a
bent is shown above. As the columns in (a) and (b) shorten, the single and double diagonals are
subjected to compression. At (c), where the diagonals are not connected, the end of the girder is not
stiffly restrained by the columns bending rigidity. Therefore, the girder can not provide the
horizontal restraint that the diagonals need to develop a force. As a consequence, the diagonals will
not attract significant gravity load forces. In the K-brace at (d) the vertical restraint from the
flexural stiffness of the beam is not large. As in case (c), the diagonals experience only negligible
gravity load forces.
(a) Flexural deflection; (b) shear deflection; (c) Combined deflection.
Under lateral loads, a braced tall building behaves like a vertical cantilever truss. The columns are the
chords, that carry the external load moment, in tension on the windward side and in compression on
the lee side. The braces and girders serve as web members, to carry the horizontal shear. The chord
columns cause the structure to have a flexural deflection (a), with zero slope at the bottom and
maximum at top. The web member deformations cause a shear deflection (b) with maximum at the
bottom and zero at the top. The sum of these two deflections is shown in (c). The actual shape will
depend on the relative magnitudes of these competing forces.
For common single bay braced bents, the lateral loads cause a maximum tension at the base of the
windward column of the braced bay. The more slender the bay, the larger is the tensile force. This
tension is partly or wholly offset by the dead load of the building. For buildings with a height-to-
width ratio greater than about 10, the tensile (uplift) forces may be too large to be offset by the dead
load. When designing a multi-bay bent building, the placement of the bracing in a staggered
arrangement will provide much smaller column axial loads caused by the lateral loading.
Methods of Hand-analysis

- Member force analysis

- Drift analysis
Virtual Work drift analysis
Moment-area and shear approximate drift

Most structural engineers place complete reliance on computer software to obtain the forces and
deflections of a structure. The software of choice is usually a frame analysis program (for example,
ETABS, ROBOT, STAAT, TEKLA, etc.). Experienced engineers however, aspire to a higher and
intuitive understanding of their structures behavior. For those few, a knowledge of the methods
developed for hand calculations is essential to confirm the correctness of their computer models and
their softwares beautifully colored output.
Member force analysis.

An analysis of the forces in a statically determinate triangulated braced bent can be performed
through the method of sections. In the figure above, the single diagonal braced panel is subjected to
the external shear force Qi on the left, at story i. Also, it is subjected to external moments Mi and Mi-1
at floor levels i and i-1 respectively. To preserve simplicity for the hand calculation, the frame is
assumed to be pin jointed, as shown, so that the members carry axial loads only. The forces in the
members can now be found from equilibrium conditions of the free body above the section X-X.
In more complex braced bents, such as the story-height knee-braced bent shown above the analysis is
still simple,
Drift analysis.
The contribution to the total drift comes from two components: the axial deformation of the
columns contribute to the flexural mode, and the deformation of the diagonals and girders
contribute to the shear mode. In low rise buildings, the shear mode displacements are dominant,
whereas in high rise buildings the higher axial forces on the columns cause the flexural mode to be
dominant. For example, in a panel with a single diagonal brace, and a building height-to-width
ratio of 8 (for example, the WTC was 1456/209 = 7), the total drift may be 70% due to flexure and
30% due to shear.

The inter-story drift (lateral drift from one story to the next) is often the limiting drift criterion. In a
braced structure, inter-story drift is largest at the top of the building, because it is strongly
influenced by the flexural component, which may contribute 95% of the top story drift. The great
advantage of hand calculating the inter-story drift is that it permits the recognition of which
individual members may need to be increased in size to reduce the total drift, or the inter-story

The virtual work drift analysis is simply a method of introducing a virtual or dummy horizontal
load at each level. The resulting unit drift is used as a factor to multiply the actual horizontal
loads. The formula for the horizontal deflection at any level is,

The first summation refers to all the members subjected to axial loading, and the second summation
refers to only those members subjected to bending.
Figure (a) at left is used to find the resulting forces and moments at each level N due to the horizontal
load. A force analysis is performed to determine the axial load Pj in each member j, and the bending
moment Mxj at point x. The second step is to then subject the structure to a unit imaginary or
dummy horizontal load at each level of interest, N in this case (figure b) whose drift is required,
yielding the axial force pjN and moment mjN at section x. The virtual work method is exact (closed
form) and can be easily tabulated.
In lieu of the virtual work method an approximate drift analysis can be performed using the moment-
area method to obtain the flexural drift component, and apply a shear deflection formula to obtain
the shear drift component. A detailed member force analysis is not required; only the external
moment and total shear force at each level are required. Figure (a) shows a simplified braced frame
15-story building, under wind loading. In figure (b) is the external load moment diagram, and (c) is
the M/EI diagram. An example of how to use this method follows.
In the approximate analysis, the second moment of inertia of area I of the column sectional areas
about their common centroid is calculated; for the lower region of the braced bent, these are,
An example of drift calculations for a braced
frame 15-story building.

The building shown at left has been divided into

three 5-story zones where their stiffness
parameters are the same. Assume the wind load
is a uniform 10 kips per story, and that E = 4.2 x
106 ksf.

Find the drift at floors 5, 10 and 15.

Step 1. Find the flexural drift.

Step 2. Find the shear drift.
Step 3. Add flexural and shear to obtain the total
1. The inertia of column 3 is found from their common centroid mid-way between the columns. For story 5, Ac= 35
I = 2 Ac (L/2)2 = (2)(35 in2)(20 ft)2 /(144)(4) = 48.6 ft2
2. The external moment M at each mid-story level is entered in column 4; for example, the moment in story 12,
M = 10(5+15+25) + (5)(35) = 625 kip-ft
3. The product of the story drift times the inclination is h M/EI = . At story 5, = (10)(5525)/(48.6)E =
4. The story inclination in column 6 has the accumulation of the from the bottom to that level. For story 5,
h M/EI = (2166 + 1878 + 1610 + 1363 + 1137)/E = 8153/E
5. Each story drift is h multiplied by column 6, and recorded in column 7. For story 5, 5= (10)(8153)/E = 81,530/E
6. The total flexural drift is the accumulation of the story drifts i from story 1 to N (in this case, story 5),
5 = (21,656 + 40,432 + 56,533 + 70,165 + 81,533)/ 4.2 x 10 = 0.064 ft
The shear drift component, is found using the table above at left, of shear deflections for different types of
bracing. For this problem, the first case is used, that is a single diagonal brace per story panel.
1. Calculate the value of the external shear Qi acting in each story i, and place in column 2.
2. Using the formula for the single diagonal brace, find each story drift into column 3. For example, for story 8,
8 = Q/E [ d /L Ad + L/Ag ]i = (75) / (4.2 x 10 ) [ (22.36) (144) / (20) (10) + (20)(144)/(30) ] = 0.0089 ft
3 2 6 3 2

3. Add the story drifts due to shear up to stories 5, 10 and 15 and record in column 4. The total shear drift at floor
5 = 0.0125 + 0.0117 + 0.0109 + 0.0100 + 0.0091 = 0.054 ft

Finally, the total drift is the sum of the flexural and shear drifts at that level. At the top, story 15,
15 = 15f + 15s = 0.380 + 0.126 = 0.506 ft (or 0.506/150 = 1/300 which is not acceptable)
An ETABS analysis yields a 15 = 0.477 ft, or a difference of only 6% with respect to the hand calculation.
The figure at the above left, shows the relative contributions of the columns, diagonals and girders deformations
to the drift of the 15 story building. The diagonal braces have a large influence in the lower levels, and the column
axial deformations tend to dominate the drift at the higher levels, and dominate the total drift curve. The figure
above right, shows the relative contribution of the columns, diagonal braces and the girders to the story drifts. In
the upper part of the structure, the axial deformations of the columns dominate the story drifts even more than
they do the total drift.
The Mercantile Tower in Saint Louis, Missouri, is
a 35 story building using multi-story K-bracing.

This is an example of the increased use of bracing

for tall buildings where the same bracing extends
through many stories. These large braces have
become a major architectural features of many
modern structures.

In the Mercantile Tower there are four vertical

trusses, each consisting of three-story high K-
braced panels, aligned diagonally in plan across
the cut-off corners of the building. Each pair of
vertical trusses at the ends of the building is
joined by a rigid frame.

The four vertical trusses are also connected to a

single bay rigid frame on each side of the wide
faces to form a stiff vertical U-section assembly at
each end of the building. These trusses provide
resistance to the lateral loads from wind in both
the transverse and longitudinal directions of the
The 27-story Alcan Building in San
Francisco uses six-story height panels of
double-diagonal bracing between the main
full-height columns on each of the buildings
four faces.

At each mid-panel crossover point the

braces connect to intermediate columns that
rise from the first floor, transition girder

In this arrangement, the braces serve several

Carry the lateral shear on the building
Mobilize the intermediate columns axially so
that they participate with the main columns
in resisting the lateral load moment
Shift gravity loading from the intermediate
columns to the main columns and thus
27-story Alcan Building in San Francisco. reduce the load on the transfer girder.
The Citicorp Building in New York is a 54-story braced frame
structure, 914 feet in height. Its odd columnar arrangement
resulted from the need to preserve a historic church at one
corner of the site.

This diagram of the structure shows the actual bracing of the

external structure, which is not visible to the external observer,
because it is covered by the external cladding. The building has
a full-height central core and four nine-story legs that are
located under the middle of the tower faces. Each braced leg
supports a two-story high transfer truss. Upon this truss is
raised a major mast column, in line with the outer leg. The
minor columns are located at the corners and quarter points of
the tower faces. The column system is K-braced by eight-story
high major diagonals.

The gravity loads are shared between the core and the outer
frame. In the outer frame, lateral loads are transferred from the
minor columns to the mast columns via the diagonals. At the
base of the tower, the entire shear is transferred back to the core
and down into the foundation. The moment from wind is carried
mainly by the mast columns and the legs in the faces normal to
the wind, and partly by the core.
The John Hancock Building in Chicago is 100 stories in
height, 1,127 feet tall, and finished in 1970. It combines
two major structural concepts: the tube and bracing.

This hybrid structure has four rigid frame faces, stiffened

by 20-story tall diagonal braces. This concept was called
the bundled tube by its structural engineer, Dr. Fazlur
Khan. The rigid frames form a vertical tube cantilever in
which the frames parallel to the wind act as the webs,
whereas the frames normal to the wind act as the
cantilevers flanges.

The diagonal bracing serves to (1) resist the lateral

loading, (2) reduce the shear lag in the flange column
axial forces, thereby making the whole cross-section
much stiffer against horizontal load bending, and (3)
helps equalize the gravity load stresses in the columns.

An important consequence of the reduced shear lag in the

flange frames of the braced-tube structure is that the
demand on the rigid-frame action is reduced so much
that the columns can be spaced further apart, and the
spandrel beams can be shallower than in un-braced tube
structures, thereby allowing larger window openings.
The story of the John Hancock Center is deeply intertwined with Fazlur R. Khan, Ph.D.,
S.E., P.E. (1929-1982), its structural designer.

The large growth of urban densities in the 1960s and 1970s encouraged the renaissance
in skyscraper construction across the US. One of the most renowned engineers of that
time was Dr. Khan, who combined innovative engineering with an ability to create
collaboratively. Dr. Khan received his BS in civil engineering from the University of
Dacca, Bangladesh. He won a Fullbright Scholarship to study at the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned two master degrees and a doctorate in
structural engineering. He joined the Chicago-based firm of Skidmore, Owings and
Merrill (SOM) and rose to the position of Chief Engineer. With SOM, he recognized
that the then-current high-rise structural systems didnt address the scale of modern
needs. He therefore developed a number of innovative concepts that made skyscrapers
more affordable, such as (1) the shear-wall frame interaction system, (2) the frame-tube
structure, (3) the tube-in-the-tube structure, and (4) the concept behind the John
Hancock Center, the trussed-tube structure. He worked closely with SOMs Chief Design
Architect, Bruce J. Graham, to create the graceful form of the Hancock Center. After
the Hancock Tower, Dr. Khan served as the structural engineer for the Sears Tower,
finished in 1974. The central design features of the Hancock Tower are that the steel
columns and spandrel beams are concentrated at the perimeter. Five diagonal braces
(X-bracing) on the exterior walls provide both structural and aesthetic functions. The
braces are connected to the exterior columns. This design resulted in a savings of 50%
of the structural steel compared to traditional framed structures. The tower tapers
towards the top from a ground plan of 40,000 sf, to only 18,000 sf at the summit. This
taper assists in providing stability to the tower. The towers 384,000 kip weight sits upon
drilled shafts that extend 191 feet deep into bedrock; probably one of Chicagos deepest
foundations. The tower has 100-stories, with a height of 1,127 feet, but measures 1,476
feet at the top of the antenna. It is a mixed-use building with residential apartments,
offices, a hotel, restaurants, an ice rink and its own post office.
The Hearst Tower in New York, 2001.

Notice the contrast of the faceted braced

frame tower placed upon the pre-existing
Art Deco building at the lower levels. This
design, by Foster and Partners of New
York, was constrained by the existing six-
story masonry block historic land-mark
built in 1928 by Joseph Urban.

Although this structure is truly a

perimeter tube, it is a hybrid, with the 9-
story high bracing creating what is now
called a dia-grid.

At left is a cutaway to show how the sky-lit

atrium at the base of the tower brings a
sense of lightness to the interior of the
The Century Tower in Tokyo, 1991.

This photo shows an excellent example

of two-story high knee-bracing. This
building is only 10 stories high, but its
placement inside a park makes its
simple structural solution stand out
and become an object of structural

Notice the uncluttered column-free

office areas. The girders are tapered
towards their column connections
because the brace contributes to the
added shear capacity.
Shanghai Bank, Hong Kong 1985.

This 44-story building was

designed as a combination of rigid
frame with bracing by Foster and
Hong Kongs Shanghai Bank internal
atrium at left, serves as a vertical
communal space of the banking offices
and shows the inner double bracing.

Above, a section through a typical floor