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Development of a Reusable Thin-Shell Concrete Flooring System



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Global demand for floor space is projected to continue to rapidly increase due to urbanisation and population growth. Coupled with the high carbon intensity of the construction industry, immediate action must be taken in order to reduce and limit the impact of our buildings and structures on global carbon emissions and the environment. Circularity and component reuse offer an alternative design paradigm which runs counter to traditional manufacturing processes. While the sustainability benefits are clear, modern building construction practices are not compatible with component reuse and circular economy principles.

This dissertation demonstrates the feasibility of a lightweight and carbon-efficient concrete flooring system which enables disassembly, reuse, and reconfiguration, achieved by leveraging modern digital fabrication techniques and a funicular form. Inspired by the classical fan vault geometry, the segmented fan concrete shell consists of thin-shell glass fibre reinforced concrete elements which thrust against each other to maintain its structural form without any mortar. Form-finding, analysis, and digital fabrication processes were developed for the system. Through a combination of finite element modelling and an experimental testing program, the structural behaviour and performance of the segmented fan concrete shell were investigated. Sustainability comparisons to alternative flooring systems demonstrate that the proposed design is both a materially and carbon-efficient flooring system.

It was found that the proposed flooring system is structurally stable and can resist considerable loads. However, there is a sensitivity to fabrication tolerances and support conditions which can drastically reduce its stability and structural capacity. While the potential of the structural system as well as the novel digital fabrication method has been well demonstrated, further work is required to improve the proposed design to increase robustness against these factors. The work presented provides a foundation for future work on sustainable and reusable concrete shell structures.





Orr, John


concrete structures, circular economy, digital fabrication, design optimisation, structural testing, structural analysis


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/S031316/1)
Cambridge Trust