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Cover of Nature!

UPV researchers devise a new building design method that avoids catastrophic collapses

[ 16/05/2024 ]

A team from the ICITECH Institute of the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV) has published in Nature the latest results of its radical proposal to create highly resilient buildings able to withstand and survive extreme situations caused by natural hazards (floods, landslides), explosions, their own ageing, or inadequate maintenance and conservation. The proposal adds a last line of defence in building design to prevent catastrophic collapse.

The new method is inspired by how lizards protect themselves from predators by releasing their tails when attacked.

Current building design methods are primarily based on improving the connectivity between components of the structure. In the event of component failure, this connectivity allows the loads that were carried by failed components to be redistributed to the rest of the structural system. While these methods are effective after small initial failures, they can increase the risk of progressive collapse after large initial failures, leading to complete or large-scale collapses. This happened, for example, in the case of Champlain Towers, during the collapse of a building in Peñíscola in 2021 or in the Iranian city of Abadan in 2022. These are the type of incidents that are prevented by the proposed approach originating from the ICITECH-UPV.

"Our novel design method provides a solution to overcome this alarming limitation and achieve more resilient buildings, able to isolate a collapse only to the part of the structure that has suffered the initial failure and safeguarding the rest of the building. The new design method has been validated with a test on a real-scale building. It is therefore the first solution against collapse propagation in buildings after large initial failures that has been tested and verified at full scale. The application of the new design method will prevent catastrophic collapses, thus protecting human lives and minimising economic losses," says Jose M. Adam, co-author of the publication with Nirvan Makoond, Andri Setiawan and Manuel Buitrago, all four being members of ICITECH-UPV.

Fuse-based segmentation prevents catastrophic building collapses

The principle of the method developed by the UPV team lies in using the concept of a structural fuse, which makes it possible to isolate damaged parts of a building to prevent the propagation of major failures throughout the entire construction.

"This new philosophy is similar to protecting an electrical system against overloads by connecting different grid components through electrical fuses. With our designs, the building has structural continuity under normal operating conditions but is segmented when the failure propagation is inevitable, thus reducing the extent of damages and preventing total collapse," says Nirvan Makoond.

"The implementation of the method will only have a minor or even negligible impact on the cost of the structure, as it uses conventional construction details and materials," says Andri Setiawan.

In its current state of development, the researchers' new design approach can be practically applied to any new building. "Its effectiveness has been verified and demonstrated for a full-scale building specimen made of prefabricated concrete. We are currently working on extending the methodology to buildings constructed with in-situ concrete and steel," concludes Manuel Buitrago.

The first demonstration through a full-scale building test in the world

The development of this new design method is one of the most outstanding results to date of the Endure project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) with a Consolidator Grant of more than 2.5 million euros. It was precisely within the framework of this project that a world-first test was carried out in June 2023 to validate its performance. The tests were carried out on a complete full-scale building, in which a large initial failure in the structure was isolated in one part of the building, preventing its propagation to the entire structure. It should be noted that 100% of the research was carried out at the UPV, with the four authors of the publication also being UPV researchers.

Cover of Nature

Nature has featured the work of the ICITECH-UPV team on the cover of today's issue. It is also the first time that the journal has published a research article in the field of building design.

First steps toward the fruition of the idea thanks to a project financed by the BBVA Foundation

The initial development of the concept arose from a Leonardo Grant awarded by the BBVA Foundation to Jose M. Adam in 2017. Now, seven years later, with the support of the European Research Council, the ICITECH-UPV researchers are continuing this revolutionary project that will make it possible to build safer buildings and save human lives.

Endure will be carried out until 2026 in the ICITECH structures laboratory of the Universitat Politècnica de València, one of the largest laboratories in Europe for testing large structural elements.


Makoond, N., Setiawan, A., Buitrago, M. et al. Arresting failure propagation in buildings through collapse isolation. Nature 629, 592–596 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-024-07268-5

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