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Designing and building

pilasters
Venerable technique adds needed stiffness to masonry walls

By Kenneth A. Hooker

Strong in compression but rel- and stiffness.

E
ngaged columns, so prevalent
in classical architecture, do atively weak in tension, plain Incorporating pilasters, i.e.
more than simply add visual (unreinforced) masonry supports thicker, stronger wall sections, at
rhythm to long masonry walls. vertical loads easily but has con- intervals along the wall is an al-
Called pilasters, these masonry siderably less capacity to resist ternative way to provide lateral
elements serve structural as well lateral loads from wind or seis- support, in cases where other
as ornamental functions. And mic activity. Lateral support can methods are impractical or un-
though today’s versions typically be provided by horizontal ele- economical. For warehouses or
lack the decorative bases and ments, such as floor and roof di- industrial buildings that require
capitals of historical precedent, aphragms, or by vertical elements high ceilings and unobstructed
they remain an effective way to such as shear walls within the interior spaces, for example, pi-
increase masonry’s structural building. Steel reinforcement and lasters can provide needed stiff-
capacity. grout in a wall also add strength ness at lower cost than uniformly

Figure 2. Typical bonded and unbonded pilaster layouts for concrete masonry walls.

Masonry Construction / May 1995 1


L
T

Span between pilasters


Maximum ratio of unsupported
length to nominal thickness
Max.
Construction L/T

Bearing walls
Solid or solidly grouted 20
All others 18
Nonbearing walls
Exterior 18
Interior 36

Source: Ref. 5

This highway noise barrier wall under construction shows an unbonded, rein- Figure 1. In empirically designed walls, pi-
forced brick masonry pilaster that provides lateral support for the single-wythe laster spacing is based on maximum length-
brick panels. to-thickness ratios.
distributed reinforcement, and the placement of pilasters is gov- ported on pilasters also will af-
without the expense and wasted erned by maximum length-to- fect the pilasters’ behavior and
space of thicker masonry. In many thickness ratios. The table in Fig- should be considered in the de-
such cases, they also are used to ure 1 shows these ratios for both sign. More complete and detailed
support vertical loads imposed by loadbearing and non-loadbearing information on the analytical de-
roof trusses or beams. Pilasters walls. sign of pilasters is available in
also are commonly used in free- For engineered design of walls Refs. 1, 2, and 3.
standing masonry garden or noise with pilasters, you need to deter- Pilasters can be built of solid
barrier walls that have no hori- mine the magnitude of lateral units or of hollow units, with or
zontal support at the top. loads and how they will be trans- without grout, or reinforced and
mitted to the pilasters by the ad- grouted. In hollow-unit construc-
Design requirements jacent wall panels. Axial loads tion, however, pilasters typically
In walls designed empirically, imposed by beams or trusses sup- are grouted and reinforced, be-

Source: Ref. 2
Figure 3. Typical bonded and unbonded pilaster layouts for brick walls.

Units for special conditions 2- unit set

15 5⁄8″

7 5⁄8″

18 5⁄8″

Units for 8″ walls Alternate courses Corner pilaster

Source: Ref. 6 Figure 4. Special units for pilaster construction.


cause they are acting as flexural laster should be filled with a com- References
members. Vertical reinforcement pressiblematerialtoaccommodate 1. Masonry Designers’ Guide, John H.
greatly increases their flexural expansion of the brick. For con- Matthys, editor, 1993, The Masonry Soci-
strength. trol joints at pilasters in concrete ety, 3775 Iris Ave., Boulder, CO 80301.
A pilaster may be centered in masonry, U-shaped wire ties with 2. NCMA-TEK 17-4, “Reinforced Concrete
or through the wall, fully offset greased legs in the mortar joints Masonry Pilaster Design,” National Con-
crete Masonry Association, 2302 Horse
from the wall, or somewhere in will allow in-plane movement Pen Rd., Herndon, VA 22071.
between. Those that are built while resisting lateral loads.
3. “Reinforced Brick Masonry Columns and
within the wall’s thickness are Pilasters,” BIA Technical Notes on Brick
called hidden or flush pilasters; Reinforcement details Construction, Number 17I, Brick Institute of
those that project on one side on- America, 11490 Commerce Park Dr., Re-
The size and number of verti- ston, VA 22091.
ly are called interior or exterior cal reinforcing bars in a pilaster
pilasters. Although there is some 4. Brick and Tile Engineering, Harry C.
will depend on the structural re- Plummer, 1962, BIA.
difference in the structural be- quirements. Bars need to be posi-
havior of pilasters in different 5. Masonry Design and Detailing, Third Edi-
tioned with enough clearance
positions relative to the wall, in tion, Christine Beall, 1993, McGraw-Hill.
from the masonry units to allow
practice, the placement often is 6. W.C. Panarese, S.H. Kosmatka, and F.A.
grout to flow around the bars.
determined more by aesthetic Randall Jr., Concrete Masonry Handbook,
If pilasters are used to carry Fifth Edition, 1991, Portland Cement Asso-
preference or interior space re- large axial loads, they act as ciation, 5420 Old Orchard Rd., Skokie, IL
quirements than by structural columns and thus must meet pre- 60077.
considerations. scriptive requirements for ma-
sonry columns. The MSJC code
Bonded or unbonded (Building Code Requirements for
Pilasters most often are con- Masonry Structures, ACI 530/
structed as an integral part of the ASCE 5/TMS 402) requires a
wall, with units laid in a cours- minimum of four vertical bars
ing pattern that keys in with the enclosed by horizontal wire ties at
wall’s running bond. In some cas- least 1⁄4 inch in diameter, spaced
es, however, it can be preferable no more than 16 inches o.c. verti-
to build the pilaster unbonded to cally. Other prescriptive require-
provide for crack control. Figures ments may apply depending on
2 and 3 show some typical lay- the pilaster’s size and use.
outs of both bonded and unbond-
ed pilasters. Special units
An unbonded pilaster would
Most pilaster configurations
be used when a control joint is lo-
can be built using combinations
cated adjacent to a pilaster in a
of standard units, but a variety of
concrete masonry wall. Another
hollow units are produced espe-
example is when a reinforced
cially for building pilasters (see
pilaster in an otherwise unrein-
Figure 4). These can ease con-
forced clay masonry wall is
struction by reducing the number
designed to carry heavy vertical
of units needed, providing more
loads. Making the pilaster
open space for reinforcing and
unbonded can relieve shear and
grout, and eliminating the need
tensile stresses that could result
to thread units over reinforcing
from differential movements be-
bars. When considering the use
tween the pilaster and the wall
of special pilaster units, check
(Ref. 4).
with a local supplier on the avail-
In either case, a suitable me-
ability of particular shapes. And
chanical connection must be made
plan the layout carefully to make
between the pilaster and the wall
sure to order everything you need;
to ensure the transfer of lateral
many special units require differ-
loads. Under empirical design,
ent configurations to be used in
codes require that wire ties at
alternate courses.
least 1⁄4 inch in diameter be em-
Whether built with standard
bedded in bed joints at 16 inches
or special units, pilasters are an
o.c. vertically to provide the struc-
element of traditional masonry
tural connection. PUBLICATION # M950214
constructionthatcontemporaryde-
The soft joint between a clay Copyright © 1995, The Aberdeen Group
signers can use to serve both aes-
brick wall and an unbonded pi- All rights reserved
thetic and functional purposes.