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Professor Colin Taylor, Dr David Wagg, Dr Bruce Drinkwater and Professor Bernd Krauskopf.
University of Bristol.

Engineers from the University of Bristol are developing new ways of modelling and testing the way that structures behave. Their work is part of the research that will take place at the Bristol Laboratory for Advanced Dynamics Engineering (BLADE), which is currently under construction. Not surprisingly, the building itself will incorporate some impressive engineering features. A 15m high reaction wall, made from hundreds of tonnes of steel and concrete, will be used for testing large and full-scale structures. An enhanced earthquake-simulation table will be able to shake and test model structures weighing up to 15 tonnes.

BLADE is more than just a building, however. It represents a new, multidisciplinary approach to testing, designing, engineering, building and managing the performance of complex systems such as aircraft, bridges and transport infrastructures. It is based on the idea that a structure changes its behaviour during its life, rather than acting as a static system, and its performance needs to be managed from design concept through to the end of its life cycle. This management process needs to take place in an integrated way, taking into account the structure's changing environment, how its materials and components will behave, and how it might react to unpredictable influences such as extreme weather conditions.

'Traditionally, we have thought of new buildings as static structures that mostly survive the more dynamic environments around them, ' explains earthquake engineer Colin Taylor. 'But static strength does not translate into dynamic strength. By working on all aspects of a new structure from the start of a project, we are finding better ways of creating structures that are as dynamic as their environments, so they will be better at resisting or surviving extreme events such as earthquakes or special weather conditions, while still meeting their basic performance requirements.'

The BLADE experimental approach is designed to help overcome some of the scaling problems encountered when modelling unpredictable systems. Very often, the way a system behaves in a test depends on the scale of the model used, and that may not be a strong basis for designing a structure in real life.

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