A new method for constructing resilient buildings has been developed by a team of researchers from the ICITECH Institute of the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV) in Spain.
Taking inspiration from lizards that can detach their tails when under attack — a self-defense mechanism called autotomy, which enables lizards to escape a predator’s grasp by discarding an appendage — the team developed a method that adds a so-called last line of defense against catastrophic building collapses.
Source: Wikimedia CommonsSource: Wikimedia Commons
Unlike current building design practices that focus on redistributing loads in response to component failure, the new approach mimics the design of a lizard tail, which is composed of different segments that each represents a point where the tail can break off. As such, the ICITECH-UPV team aims to develop structural fuses.
To develop new buildings capable of withstanding hazards such as floods, landslides, aging or inadequate maintenance, for instance, the team adopted a philosophy “similar to protecting an electrical system against overloads by connecting different grid components through electrical fuses."
Specifically, the new design reportedly preserves the building’s structural continuity under normal operating conditions. Yet, in the event that failure propagation becomes inevitable, structural continuity is segmented — much like a lizard’s tail — thereby preventing total collapse and safeguarding other parts of the building.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of their design in the real world, the researchers constructed a real-scale building composed of prefabricated concrete. During trials, when a large initial failure was introduced in the structure, the team determined that the failure was isolated and subsequently prevented the building’s total collapse.
An article detailing the new design, "Arresting failure propagation in buildings through collapse isolation," appears in the journal Nature.

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