Mechanics of Progressive Collapse: Learning from World Trade Center and Building Demolitions

I had to buy online the pretty expensive PDF to this article, so I would love to pass it on to anyone who wants a copy. Just email me if you're interested.


Mechanics of Progressive Collapse: Learning from World Trade Center and Building Demolitions

J. Engrg. Mech., Volume 133, Issue 3, pp. 308-319 (March 2007)

Zdenek P. Bažant,1 F.ASCE and Mathieu Verdure2

1McCormick School Professor and W.P. Murphy Professor of Civil Engineering and Materials Science, Northwestern Univ., 2145 Sheridan Rd., CEE/A135, Evanston, IL 60208. E-mail:

2Visiting Fellow, Northwestern Univ., 2145 Sheridan Rd., CEE/A135, Evanston, IL 60208; on leave from Ecole Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France.

(Accepted 16 September 2006)

Progressive collapse is a failure mode of great concern for tall buildings, and is also typical of building demolitions. The most infamous paradigm is the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. After reviewing the mechanics of their collapse, the motion during the crushing of one floor (or group of floors) and its energetics are analyzed, and a dynamic one-dimensional continuum model of progressive collapse is developed. Rather than using classical homogenization, it is found more effective to characterize the continuum by an energetically equivalent snap-through. The collapse, in which two phases—crush-down followed by crush-up—must be distinguished, is described in each phase by a nonlinear second-order differential equation for the propagation of the crushing front of a compacted block of accreting mass. Expressions for consistent energy potentials are formulated and an exact analytical solution of a special case is given. It is shown that progressive collapse will be triggered if the total (internal) energy loss during the crushing of one story (equal to the energy dissipated by the complete crushing and compaction of one story, minus the loss of gravity potential during the crushing of that story) exceeds the kinetic energy impacted to that story. Regardless of the load capacity of the columns, there is no way to deny the inevitability of progressive collapse driven by gravity alone if this criterion is satisfied (for the World Trade Center it is satisfied with an order-of-magnitude margin). The parameters are the compaction ratio of a crushed story, the fracture of mass ejected outside the tower perimeter, and the energy dissipation per unit height. The last is the most important, yet the hardest to predict theoretically. It is argued that, using inverse analysis, one could identify these parameters from a precise record of the motion of floors of a collapsing building. Due to a shroud of dust and smoke, the videos of the World Trade Center are only of limited use. It is proposed to obtain such records by monitoring (with millisecond accuracy) the precise time history of displacements in different modes of building demolitions. The monitoring could be accomplished by real-time telemetry from sacrificial accelerometers, or by high-speed optical camera. The resulting information on energy absorption capability would be valuable for the rating of various structural systems and for inferring their collapse mode under extreme fire, internal explosion, external blast, impact or other kinds of terrorist attack, as well as earthquake and foundation movements.

©2007 ASCE


This may not be exactly the same paper

but their paper of the same title that was presented at a June 2006 symposium is available here:

Thank you for offering to send the paper. Could you tell me if the paper you have is different? If so, I might ask you to send it. Even if it's the same. it is probably more authoritative to cite the version published in a journal. Thank you.

I came across this paper by chance at this new blog below which has lots of materials. The blogger is in fundamental disagreement with "truthers," but he has put together a great resource. I don't know how complete the responder transcripts are, but you can search them.

Thank you

That's most kind of you.