General Building Design and Construction Methods

Paper Info
Page count 6
Word count 1719
Read time 7 min
Topic Art & Design
Type Research Paper
Language 🇺🇸 US


Over several years, there have been several failures for structures under fire; hence, it is mandatory that such failures are factored during the design and construction of new structures. In particular, fire science tries to establish such failures and devise the best methods that will help in creating structures that will remain structurally safe for longer hours during fires. Similarly, the knowledge of such failures has created a platform for implementing changes within existing building codes, as well as establishing new codes. In this paper, therefore, the author presents an analysis of the general building design and construction methods, explains the possible collapses, as well as explains how building codes are affected by the knowledge of such failures.

General Building Design and Construction Methods

In building and construction, there are several ways by which a structure may be designed to offer an acceptable level of fire safety when under fire. As such, engineering professionals must search for excellent methods of conducting engineering practices so as to establish the best security measures in case of a fire. According to Brannigan and Corbett (2010) it is of utmost value that a fire fighter becomes conversant with intrinsic risks of a structure under construction, renovation, as well as demolition. In addition, it is crucial to understand the manner by which building materials react under fire attack so as to establish the best approaches to employ in firefighting. As such, it would be beneficial to have some useful information about the construction process, building design, as well as the construction methods that are in use.

Fire Resistive Construction

In this type of construction, all the structural components of a building are usually protected from the effect of fire in order to ensure the building structural integrity is maintained during a fire (Corbett, 2009). Severally, the protected structural members include the columns and beams, and at other situations the floor slabs are also protected from the effect of fire. Generally, the level of fire resistance of the buildings’ structural components is measured in an hourly rate, which gives the amount of time that a building can withstand a fire without losing its structural soundness. Fire-resistive materials are usually employed in the construction of high-rise structures, hospitals, and cold storage structures among others.

Noncombustible Construction

In this category of construction, the structural members of a building are comprised of noncombustible materials; as such, they may have very little or no fire resistance (Corbett, 2009). For that matter, the materials are usually a composition of structural steel, concrete block, in-situ concrete, as well as cold-formed structural steel components. In other definitions, this type of constructions may be termed as limited combustible construction; however, this kind of construction is usually prone to collapse in fire because the steel is unprotected unlike in fire resistive construction.

Ordinary Construction

Corbett (2009) describes ordinary construction as that type of construction that consists of exterior masonry load bearing walls with wood joist floors and roof section. In addition, the interior bearing walls may be constructed of masonry, or may be made of wood depending on the construction preferences. Also, this construction may sometimes incorporate some kind of roof truss: On several occasions, occupancies with this type of construction are mostly found as garden apartments, multiple residential dwellings, as well as manufacturing and commercial buildings (Corbett, 2009).

Types of Collapses that may occur

In fire engineering and building constructions, there are several types of destructions that may happen. Hence, fire engineering professionals must be aware of such collapses in order to find efficient methods of attending to such failures, as well as improve on the existing building codes. The collapses that may occur in structural buildings include “masonry wall collapse, floor collapse, roof collapse, stairway collapse, and frame building collapse” as discussed below (Dunn, 2010).

Masonry Wall Collapse

According to Dunn (2010) there are three ways by which the outside wall of a masonry structure may collapse. These include the 90 degree angle collapse, curtain-fall collapse, or the inward/outward collapse scenarios as discussed in the following paragraphs.

90 Degree Wall Collapse

As established in various studies, the 90 degree wall collapse is the most common type of masonry wall failure, which takes place in building that have been affected by a fire. In this situation, the building wall falls out of its original position and the uppermost part of the falling section strikes the ground. As a result, the resultant materials such as bricks, steel, and other building elements succumb to the impact and may roll over the ground to cover approximately the same footage as the overall length of the falling section (Dunn, 2010). A multistory exterior wall, for example, may fail in this manner when the hovering fire causes the collapse of all the interior floors. As such, the heap created by the collapsed floor debris will exert an outward force against the inside section of one of the enclosing walls leading to the development of a vertical crack (Dunn, 2010). The figure below is a pictorial example of how a masonry wall would fall in a 90 degree collapse.

Masonry Wall failing at 90-degree angle.
Figure: Masonry Wall failing at 90-degree angle.

Similarly, this may occur on a free standing wall of a burning building especially during a particularly cold weather.

Curtain-fall Collapse

In a similar situation, the outside wall of a masonry structure may fall in a dropping fashion the same way a falling curtain detaches itself when let loose at the uppermost section (Dunn 2010). This situation may occur when an element such as metal ties holding up the brick elements together are destroyed by the fire exposing the bricks to a free fall. Similarly, this kind of collapse may occur when the interiors of the structure has failed leaving the freestanding walls that have several windows and arches to fall vertically downwards. The figure below is a pictorial example of a curtain-fall collapse of a masonry wall.

Curtain-fall Collapse of a Masonry Wall.
Figure: Curtain-fall Collapse of a Masonry Wall.

Inward/Outward Collapse

This collapse occurs when a wall becomes unstable due to the effect of the fire and falls inwards with the bottom section hitting the ground first. On several occasions, however, firefighters operating on the ground must take caution when attending to a fire within the structure as the unstable wall may result in an inward/outward collapse. According to Dunn (2010) this kind of collapse is generally caused by a force that is directed against the inside part of the falling section. The following diagram shows an example of an inward/outward masonry wall collapse.

Inward/Outward Masonry Wall Collapse.
Figure: Inward/Outward Masonry Wall Collapse.

Floor Collapse

Dunn (2010) asserts that floor collapse is the leading cause of fatalities to firefighters who are normally trapped by the falling floors. In particular, firefighters use building floors as the platforms for launching their inside searches, as well as operate their hoselines; hence, this pose a key risk to the firefighters should there be a floor collapse. Generally, there are three main types of floor failure: These include floor deck collapse, floor beam collapse, or a multilevel floor collapse as described in the following paragraphs (Dunn, 2010).

Floor Deck Collapse

This failure involves the collapse of the floor deck where the wooded element may burn out and fail, while the supporting joists still remain in position. In 1995, a similar scenario occurred where FDNY Fire Lieutenant John Clancy perished due to the collapse of a floor deck.

Floor Beam Collapse

In order for this collapse to occur, several floor joists must fail; hence, result in the localized failure of a particular area of the floor. This failure leads to the formation of a more lethal failure than what is experienced with the floor deck collapse. In 2006, a lethal floor beam collapse took place, and resulted in the death of FDNY Lieutenant Howard Carpluk together with a crew member, Michael Reilly.

A Multilevel Floor Collapse

As the name suggests, a multilevel floor collapse refers to a progressive floor failure where the collapse of a particular floor triggers the subsequent collapse of the floors lying underneath the collapsed floor. As such, this kind of collapse is the most feared due to the extensive damages and deaths that are usually accompanied by the failure. For example, a multilevel floor collapse occurred in 1972 (Vendorne Hotel) and resulted in the death of 9 Boston Firefighters, as well as in 11/2001 (World Trade Center) where 2,749 people alongside 343 firefighters lost their lives (Arnold, 2005; Dune, 2010).

How the Knowledge of these failures has impacted changes in Building Codes

In general, the knowledge of the discussed building construction failures has led to the improvement of building codes (Science Daily, 2010). For instance, building collapses has caused several deaths to the occupants of buildings, as well as to the firefighting members on various past occasions. As a result, building codes have been modified to allow safe operation distances for the firefighters’ operations both within and outside the building structures (Science Daily, 2010).

In connection, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center resulted in key changes within the building codes (Arnold, 2005). In effect, New York City implemented a model building code that included the necessity for wider staircase, firmer stairwells, as well as built-in voice communication systems that will be a valuable communication tool for firefighters in high-rise buildings (Murphy, 2011; Science Daily, 2010).

Additionally, it was set as a requirement that all new and existing structures should be installed with a fire sprinkler system by the year 2019 in order to uphold fire safety (Licht, 2005). However, the implementation of changes in building codes has created a need for the education of firefighting professionals in building technology; this will equip them with appropriate knowledge on the behavior of various construction materials under fire (Licht, 2005).


As established, fire poses a great concern for firefighters and occupants of such buildings. As a solution, it is mandatory that all the building codes are drafted and improved to offer the best service. Thus, several fire engineering professionals have helped in establishing favorable building codes, as well as fire codes for a safe administration of fire fighting services. Therefore, it is inevitable to mention that previous failures has given a clear path to the discovery of better methods of handling fires.


Arnold, J. (2005). Large Building Fires and Subsequent Code Changes. Web.

Brannigan, F., & Corbett, G. (2010). Building Construction for the Fire Service. Sudbary, MA: Jones and Bartlatt Publishers.

Corbett, G. (2009). Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I & II. Tulsa, Oklahoma: PennWell Corporation.

Dunn, V. (2010). Collapse of Burning Buildings: A Guide to Fireground Safety. Tulsa, Oklahoma: PennWell Corporation.

Licht, R. (2005). The Impact of Building Code Changes on Fire Service Safety. Web.

Murphy, J. (2011). New Phase of Building Code Changes Looms. Web.

Science Daily: New Building Fire Code Changes Approved by International Code Council. (2010). Web.

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EssaysInCollege. (2022, May 23). General Building Design and Construction Methods. Retrieved from


EssaysInCollege. (2022, May 23). General Building Design and Construction Methods.

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EssaysInCollege. "General Building Design and Construction Methods." May 23, 2022.