The Structural Engineer > Archive > Volume 81 (2003) > Issues > Issue 19 > 19th Century 'fireproof' buildings, their strength and robustness
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19th Century 'fireproof' buildings, their strength and robustness

This paper is concerned with the general features and the structural performance of the so-called fireproof building, used in Britain from the end of the 18th century after disastrous fires in very large timber-floored factories. Fireproof construction relied on the use of incombustible materials; brick arch or ‘filler joist’ slab floors are supported on iron beams and columns, between exterior load-bearing masonry walls. The strength of fireproof floors can not generally be proven by calculations alone as it depends on uncertain composite action, which may be verified by load testing or enhanced, for example, by the provision of a new structural topping. The safety record of fireproof buildings over more than two centuries has been very good, but there have been a few failures, some of them catastrophic. Details are given of a number of collapses, including several that have occurred recently. A simple classification of the causes of failure is presented and attention is drawn to guidance for ensuring the future safety of these historic buildings. Thomas Swailes, BSc (Hons), CEng, MIStructE, MICE Lecturer in Structural Engineering, Manchester Centre for Civil & Construction Engineering, UMIST

Author(s): Swailes, Thomas

Keywords: 19th century;fireproofing;buildings;structural iron;filler joist floors;preserving;refurbishing;collapse;case studies;safety;arch