Structural Design of Temporary Structures in Construction

Blog | June 25th, 2018

Due to their brief lifespans, temporary structures require a unique set of structural rules. Regular buildings are solidly planted in the ground. In contrast, temporary structures in construction are expected to endure heavy loads, but they’re also built to come apart as the project nears completion. The engineering issues are complex, the problems many, but the shortlived site frames must function, however briefly, as well as any permanent structure.

What is a Temporary Structure? 

In plain terms, it’s an engineered edifice that either supports a structure as it is being erected, or it’s a mechanism that enables access to an otherwise hard to reach part of the site. Scaffolding towers are temporary. They allow at-height workers to work far above the ground. Likewise, ramps are built to help heavy trucks access elevated areas. What about load supporting temporary structures? Tunnel buttresses and project shoring fall into this classification. They keep partially erected frames in place until they’re able to support themselves. It’s the job of a structural designer to ensure short-lived project resources are load-capable and safe.

Assessing the Loading Challenges 

Heavy trucks and cranes are rumbling up and down a temporary ramp. Structural calculations and engineering models make sure the temporary structure handles a predictable load. It’s the same with the temporary tunnel buttresses, with their steel I-beams holding back mountains of packed earth. Engineers also plan for transient loading factors. On the ramp, the threat of a seismic event enters the design plan. For the tunnel, ground subsidence is the threat. Taking such transient incidents into account, the structural design incorporates loading overhead.

Planning for Every Eventuality 

Over at a high-rise building, a scaffolding tower is being hit by high winds. The structure, even though it’s meant to be a short-lived frame, needs to endure when those winds kick up. A temporary bridge, one that parallels a new road bridge, should handle the waters passing below, plus it should be capable of standing firm when the stream rises and flows fast, perhaps during a seasonal storm. In other words, all of the above temporary site assets must be able to function during the worst possible conditions, even when those conditions aren’t likely.

Regular buildings are designed to last for many decades. As such, they’re built to handle the threats that are coming down the line during the course of many years. Temporary structures in construction may be short-lived, but they’re also built to handle all of those threats and potential loading problems. Above and beyond such conditions, they need to be built to hold firm when transient loading effects exert their influence.


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