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Joseph A. Yura

Joseph A. Yura, PE, is Emeritus Professor in Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. He earned a
BSCE degree from Duke, MS from Cornell and a PhD from Lehigh in 1965. He has received numerous teaching
awards during his 40 years of teaching at the U. of Texas. His research contributions are in the areas of stability,
connections, composite construction, offshore structures and elastomeric bearings. He served 32 years as a member
of the AISC Specification Committee. In 2000 he was elected into the National Academy of Engineering for his
work in stability and bracing of steel structures.

Five important stability concepts are reviewed: loss of stiffness as the buckling load is approached, inelastic column
buckling, effect of end connection details in built-up columns, lean-on bracing systems and column bracing
fundamentals. The importance of viewing instability as a stiffness issue rather than a strength problem is
emphasized. Physical models and structural failures are used throughout the lecture to illustrate the concepts. Some
unusual applications of the stability concepts are presented.



A theoretical evaluation of stability requires a second order structural analysis, i.e. equilibrium is established for the
deflected position of the structure, not a typical first order analysis. Since most formal engineering education focuses
on the use of first order analysis, many practitioners have had little structural training in stability issues. Usually,
formulas in design specifications for column, beam and frame buckling and for bracing requirements provide the
only means of checking stability. The simplicity and format (stress rather than load, for example) of these formulas
can mask important stability principles.
Five important stability concepts will be reviewed:

loss of stiffness as the buckling load is approached

inelastic column buckling
importance of end connection details in built-up columns
stiffness and strength required for braces
lean-on bracing systems


Two and a half centuries ago, Euler developed his now famous elastic column buckling formula

Pcr =

2 EI



At that time the modulus of elasticity, E, and the moment of inertia, I, as defined presently were unknown quantities.
Euler determined the elastic rigidity term EI from the measured end deflection at the end of a cantilever beam with
an applied load W using the known relationship = WL3/3(EI). The column was assumed initially straight in the
derivation. The use of the Euler formula implies that the initially straight member will remain straight until the Euler
load is reached, thus providing little warning of an impending failure. At the Euler load the column bends without
any increase in load (small deflection theory); the column has lost its stiffness.
P/ Pcr

If the column is assumed to have an initial out-ofstraightness, the following relationship can be
derived (McQuire,1968):
T =
1 P
where o is the initial out-of-straightness, T is
the total deflection when a compressive load P is
applied and Pcr is the buckling load. A plot of Eq.
(2) is shown in Fig. 1. As the applied load P
approaches the buckling load, the slope of the P T relationship (stiffness) approaches zero. Since
all members in a structure have some initial outof-straightness, flexural displacements will get
very large near the theoretical buckling load thus
providing ample warning of impending disaster.

1st yield
Fy=50 ksi



T/ o

Figure 1. Load Deflection Response for an Imperfect


Observations from some actual structural stability failures spanning a period of almost a hundred years will illustrate
this point.
Quebec Bridge Failure on August 29, 1907 At the time of its construction, the Quebec railroad bridge over the
St. Lawrence River was the longest span double cantilever bridge in the world. The bridge just prior to collapse is
shown in Fig.2. The bridge collapsed as shown in Fig. 3 due to buckling of the compression chords of the truss. The
photos shown were scanned from the official report of the collapse (Canada, 1919).
From (Tarkov, 1986):
On August 6 McLure reported to Cooper that lower chords 7L and 8-L of the south cantilever arm were bent. Cooper was
troubled. He wired back with instructions, and with the almost
plaintive question: How did bend occur in both chords?
Chief Engineer Deans insisted that chords 7-L and 8-L had
already been bent when they left the shop. McLure insisted
that they only began to show deflection after being installed on
the bridge. The debate over chords 7-L and 8-L occupied the
greater part of August. Meanwhile work continued, and the
stresses on the lower chords grew.
On August 20 chords 8-R, 9-R, and 10-R showed distortion.
The bridge was collapsing with glacial slowness, but no one not even Cooper, for all his concern in the face of the Phoenix
Bridge Companys almost cavalier attitude - appreciated fully
what was happening. On August 27 the crisis should have
been obvious to all. A week before, chord 9-L of the south
anchor arm had been only three-quarters of an inch out of line.
On the morning of August 27, McLure measured it again. The
deflection was now two and one-quarter inches. McLure
wrote to Cooper immediately. Shortly before 11:30 a.m. on
August 29, Cooper read it, and at 12:16 p.m. he sent a terse
telegram to Phoenixville that read: Add no more load to
bridge till after due consideration of facts. McLure will be
over at five oclock.

Figure 2. Quebec Bridge Prior to Collapse

Coopers telegram reached Phoenixville at about 3:00 p.m.

John Deans read it - and disregarded it. The workers stayed on
the bridge. When McLure arrived at five oclock, Deans and
Figure 3. Nineteen Thousand Tons of Steel
Peter Szlapka met with him. They agreed to meet again in the
at Failure
morning, when a letter from Phoenixs field engineer at
Quebec was due to arrive. The letter would support the Phoenix Companys position that the chords had left
Phoenixville slightly bent but serviceable. Almost precisely as the meeting adjourned, chords 9-L and 9-R of the
anchor arm buckled, and the Quebec Bridge collapsed.
Hartford Coliseum Collapse on January 18, 1978. The Hartford Coliseum roof structure was a long span space
truss constructed mainly with double angle members. The 30 million dollar structure totally collapsed on January 18,
1978, at 4 a.m., just six hours after the completion of a U. Conn basketball game with five thousand attendees. No
one was injured. There was an ice-snow storm underway at the time of the collapse, but the snow loads were well
within the design load limits. The collapse occurred about three years after construction.
From the Report of the Committee to Investigate the Coliseum Roof Failure, July 13, 1978:
LZA concluded that the initiating cause of the collapse of the Coliseum's space truss roof was a design
deficiency related directly to inadequate bracing of certain top chord compression members of the space truss.

The structural designer, F-B-Y, assumed that all top chord members were supported or braced at their midpoints
when in fact, all exterior top chord members were unbraced for their full 30~foot lengths and most interior top
chord members were only partially braced at their midpoints by a flexible bracing system.
The space truss was assembled on the ground and then lifted into place. During construction the following defection
deficiency was noted:
When F-B-Y designed the space truss, it anticipated deflection at the center of the space truss of 13.07 in.
under full dead and live (snow) load. The actual deflection in March and April, 1975 without any snow load
approximated that number according to measurements.
The dead load deflection was expected to be 9 inches. Since some of the truss compression chords were approaching
their buckling load, they had reduced stiffness resulting in greater truss deflection
Marcy Pedestrian Bridge Collapse on October 10, 2002. During the construction of a 171ft span steel trapezoidal
box girder pedestrian bridge in Marcy, NY, global lateral-torsional buckling occurred when the concrete deck pour
was about 60% completed (Weidlinger, 2003). When the steel alone had been erected, one top flange was about 2
inches higher than the other at midspan. The bridge had been previously assembled in the shop to check the camber
and field splices. In the shop the heights of the two flanges were within a few mm of each other. The cause of the
difference in the field was not resolved, but most likely the bridge was already starting to twist under its own dead
The following is taken from one of the witness accounts:
The crane was lifting buckets full of concrete onto the bridge deck and they had completed pouring the north
half of the deck when we got there. I noticed that then the concrete finishing machine changed directions, that
there was an unusual amount of bounce. I looked at Brian and he looked at me because we both noticed the
bounce at the same time. Brian, Ted and I were joking about me riding my bike across the bridge and I
commented that there better just be one bike. We never imagined that it was going to collapse, but did notice the
unusual amount of bounce. Brian and I were on the deck about ten minutes and then drove back .. to our office
which is about mile away
The bridge collapsed as they reached their office.
These three examples all deliver the same lesson As instability is approached, the structural system is losing its
stiffness, which translates into large displacements for minor changes in load.


Equation (1) overestimates steel column strength,
especially for short columns. There are two main
reasons for the discrepancy, initial out-of-straightness
and material yielding. The highlighted data point in Fig.
1 shows that a slightly out-ofstraight long column (L/r
= 160) will only reach 0.85Pcr before extreme fiber
yielding. In the AISC Specification the maximum
column strength in the elastic range of column
slenderness is taken as 0.877Pcr. Once overall flange
yielding occurs, the column is close to its maximum
strength. The solid line in Fig. 4 shows the first yield
limit for an out-of-straight column, calculated from the
formula P/A + Mc/I = Fy, where M is taken as PT from
Eq.(2). For the o/L = 0.001 and L/d =20 used in the
calculations, the column curve generated is similar to
the AISC column curve for Pcr/Py < 0.5 but is unconservative in the short column range due to residual
stresses as discussed below. The column capacity can be


Fy=50 ksi

Pcr/ Py







100 125 150 175 200


Figure 4. Yield Limit for an Out-of-Straight Column

viewed as a combined stress problem provided that the deflection is calculated using Eq. (2) and some modification
is made when factored axial loads are expected to exceed 0.5Py. o can also result from end eccentricities or lateral
loads (see Chapter 4 of McQuire, 1968, written by Winter)
For steel the stress-strain curve of an entire
cross section shows a proportional limit well
below the yield plateau obtained from a test
on a standard tension coupon. The variation
between the stress-strain curves for the full
cross section and the standard coupon
specimen is due to residual stresses in the
member formed during the fabrication or
manufacturing process. The residual stress
distribution and maximum values, which can
not be well controlled, vary significantly
from member to member. The variation in
residual stress is mainly responsible for the
large scatter in column test results (Hall,

AISC Column Formulas




1981) in the short to intermediate slenderness

ranges (c <1.5 or L/r < 120) shown in Fig. 5


c (Slenderness Parameter)



Figure 5. Column Tests

where c = ( L r ) Fy / E .
How residual stresses reduce column strength
is typically explained as illustrated in Fig. 6.
When P/A stresses are added to the
compressive residual stresses at the tips of the
flanges, the tips of the flanges reach the yield
stress first. Material within the yield plateau
has no stiffness (E=0) so only the remaining
elastic core (E= 29000 ksi) can resist buckling
(bending). From a stiffness viewpoint, the
cross section has effectively been reduced even
though it appears intact. This explanation
usually receives only tacit approval because it
is difficult to physically understand that
portions of the cross section can become
useless for resisting buckling under certain
levels of applied load.

Total Stress


Elastic core
E = 29000 ksi
Flange tips at yield
Stress, E = 0

Figure 6. Effect of Residual Stresses

Two pinned-end column models with the material and cross sections shown in Fig. 7, were developed to study
bracing requirements in the inelastic range (Gill, 1999). The models worked very well for that purpose but they also
provided a clear evaluation of the zero stiffness principle. A composite cross section B was fabricated by epoxing
two low strength steel sections (40 ksi) to a high strength steel core A (proportional limit = 70 ksi). The high
strength steel core was also tested separately. Column tests were conducted on columns with 19 in. and 9.5 in.
lengths. The 19 in. long columns buckled at stresses less than 40 ksi and composite column B carried 40% greater
load than column A as expected since its cross section was 38% larger (I is also 38% larger). When the 9.5 in. long
columns were tested, both sections A and B buckled at the same load. The stress on the composite column at
buckling was greater than 40 ksi so the low strength steel sections yielded and were ineffective in resisting buckling.
The test showed that our concept of inelastic buckling for steel columns is correct. The lesson from the inelastic
model test has practical importance. If a column in a structure must be reinforced to carry additional load, the
column strength may be affected by the stresses already applied to the column before the reinforcing is added. If
buckling is expected in the elastic range of behavior, the column strength can be established from the cross section
properties of the reinforced column. However, if the added stress (added load/ total reinforced cross section) when


combined with stress already on the core column exceeds the yield stress, then only the moment of inertia of the
added section can be used to determine the buckling load.

Prop. Limit

High Str. Steel

1 in

Low Str.









0.006 0.008



column cross section

Figure 7. Inelastic Buckling Model Properties

Because of the wide variation in expected out-of-straightness and residual stresses, column design equations in the
inelastic range are determined from curve fits through the test results. However, most design is based on elastic
structural analysis. In order to account for the reduction in stiffness due to inelastic column behavior, the concept of
a Stiffness Reduction Factor (SRF), , was developed (Yura, 1971) to more accurately evaluate frame or system
stability. In other words, the column rigidity in the inelastic range of applied stress is EI. is derived as the ratio of
the inelastic column capacity for a given L/r to the elastic buckling strength for that same L/r. Two common values
of to be used with factored loads are given by Eqs. (3) and (4).


( Pu / Py )

For ( Pu / Py ) > 0.35, = 6.97( Pu / Py ) log



for ( Pu / Py ) > 0.50, = ( 4 Pu / Py )(1 ( Pu / Py ))


where Py is the column squash load, (FyAg), and Pu is the required column strength. SRF = 1.0 when the Pu/Py ratio
is smaller than the limits shown. Eq.(3) is developed from the AISC inelastic column formula, including LRFD
factors, whereas Eq.(4) is based on the column formula used in the 9th Ed. AISC-ASD Specification with the factor
of safety removed. Both give reasonable estimates of the SRF. The use of will be illustrated in the next section.

The design of columns in unbraced frames is

based on effective length. For an individual
column, the alignment chart in the Commentary
of the AISC specification is usually used to
determine its effective length factor K. The
design strength determined from this effective
length may be a rather poor indication of the
actual load that can be supported by the column.
More correctly the design strength obtained
for each column in a story of a frame should be
viewed only as a contribution to the total sway
buckling strength of the story. The structure will
sway buckle when the total load on the story
exceeds the sum of the individual column
contributions (Yura, 1971). The actual load
distribution on each column does not







Figure 8.

Effect of Load Distribution on the Elastic Buckling


significantly affect the elastic buckling load as shown in Fig. 8. The ratio of the loads on the two columns is . The
plot of the total load on the frame (P + P) versus shows a horizontal relationship except when the entire load is
on one column ( = 0). There is a limitation on the load distribution; the load on any individual column in the story
can not exceed the no-sway capacity of the column.
The P concept provides the potential for design flexibility when dealing with sway instability. Since all columns
must deflect the same amount in the sway mode of buckling, designs need not be confined to supporting the load
specific to each particular column. Lateral stiffness can be concentrated with just a few columns or spread evenly
among all the columns (make all columns in the story the same size). The concept works equally for beam systems.
The concept also shows that lateral loading does not have a significant effect on buckling because the sum of the
vertical forces P does not change with lateral loading. For stability of structural systems, Eq (2) is altered as
T =

1 u

so that Pcr Pu. The Pcr term can be evaluated by a number of techniques. For example, the alignment chart can
be used to determine the contribution of each column, including effects, both in the evaluation of the K-factor and
in the contribution itself. In the AISC-LRFD Specification, the individual contribution can be taken as

Pn = 0.90(0.877 )

2 EI

(KL )

= 226000

(KL )2


Pcr can also be evaluated by using buckling computer programs, 2nd order analysis, or story stiffness methods
presented in a recent seminar (AISC-SSRC, 2003).

The P concept (or lean-on concept as it is sometimes called) is a very powerful design tool. It has been used to
design jacket legs in offshore platforms where a tubular column is inserted inside a round pile. In seismic design,
round tubular sleeves have been placed around compression diagonal braces. The diagonal supporting the entire load
will attempt to buckle as it yields but it will be confined by the exterior sleeve. Since the sleeve has no axial force, it
is elastic and its contribution to the system will be given by the elastic Euler load.


When two members are interconnected with fasteners to create a built-up column such as a double angle member,
the cross section is treated as a single member for design purposes. In the case of composite beams, the components
of the built up section, the slab and the steel section, are interconnected with shear studs that are spaced uniformly
along the length of a simply
supported span. Plastic concepts
Connectors at Ends
No Connectors
Fully Connected
are used to determine the number
of stud connectors so relative
movement (slip) will occur
d d
between the slab and the steel
d d
section. The maximum slip will
occur at the ends of the span. The
slip does not affect the ultimate L
beam strength but does affect the
deflection. However, for columns
K = 1.0
K = 1.0
K = 0.5
slip between components will
have a major effect on strength
since column stability and
strength depend on the deflection
2E bd3
2E bd3
2E bd3

response, i.e. stiffness of the

Pcr =
Pcr =
Pcr =
6 L2
6 L2
Figure 9. Effect of Connection Details on Built-Up Column Behavior

This section will focus on the effect of slip on built up column stability. The slip between the components is resisted
by the end connectors and the intermediate fasteners. The relative importance of these two groups of connectors is
illustrated in Fig. 9, which shows the buckled shape and strength for three connection scenarios between two
rectangular sections of width b and depth d. Case A has no connectors; slip occurs all along the length and the two
cross sections buckle as independent Euler columns. A single connector at mid height will merely force both
members to buckle in the same direction. In Case B the two members are fully connected; no slip occurs and the
buckling strength is four times greater than Case A. Plane sections remain plane along the entire length. Case C has
only connectors at the ends where slip is prevented. Slip occurs at all other locations along the length. Surprisingly
the column buckles into an S-shape at a load that is the same as Case B which is fully connected. Case C is hard to
comprehend so a model was constructed based on the solution of this problem given by Johnston, 1971.

Figure 10. Built-Up Column Buckling Model

The model in Fig. 10 shows two columns with the same cross section. Both are constructed from two similar
rectangular sections separated by spacer bars that are pin-connected. The spacers merely force the two components
to buckle in the same direction. The only difference between the two columns is their end connections. The column
on the left has two shear plates that prevent slip at the ends, the other column has no end connections. As illustrated
in Fig. 10, the model follows the theory exactly. The column with the end plates carries four times the load of the
pinned column and buckles in an S-shape. In both cases the column ends are free to rotate.
Further evidence (Sherman and Yura, 1998) of the importance of preventing slip at the ends is given in Fig. 11,
which show the results of tests on 2L5x3 x double angles with long legs back-to-back separated by a gusset
plate connection with two A325 bolts at each end. There are varying numbers of intermediate bolts evenly spaced
with a small spacer plate or hardened washers maintaining the inch separation. The columns were 12.5 ft. long

and loaded through knife edges at the ends to provide a pinned condition. The end bolts were either fully-tightened
to the minimum specified tension, snug tightened or fully tightened but with a grease placed on the contact surfaces
to reduce the slip coefficient. The intermediate bolts were either fully tightened or snug. The test showed that the
number of intermediate fasteners have little effect on the buckling strength of double angle columns. The
intermediate fasteners function mainly to prevent buckling of the components between fasteners. The three cases
where slip could occur at the ends showed a capacity of about 30 kips, equivalent to the strength of two single angle
sections. When slip was prevented, the 50 kip load corresponded to the strength of a fully connected built-up
section. The AISC-LRFD Specification requires that the column slenderness ratio be modified for the spacing of
intermediate fasteners. The AISC capacity is shown by the horizontal bars in Fig. 11. For a small number of
intermediate snug fasteners, the AISC Specification is very conservative. For two or more intermediate fasteners,
the AISC reduction is unimportant. The tests indicate that for double angles, it is unnecessary to use the modified
slenderness ratio. A minimum of two intermediate fasteners should be recommended to avoid the need of modifying
the stiffness. It is only important to prevent slip at the ends and to use the full cross section properties in
determining the column strength.


Ends - Interm.Conn

Tight - Snug
Tight - Tight


Tight - Snug Washers

Tight,Lubed - Snug


Snug - Snug
Snug - Snug Washers





Number of Intermediate Bolts

Figure 11. Double Angle Compression Test Results


Winter (1960) established that braces for columns and beams were required to have a minimum stiffness and a
minimum strength. A violation of either of these two requirements will result in a reduction in the buckling strength
of the main member. Brace stiffness and strength provisions have been adopted in the 3rd Edition of the AISCLRFD Specification. Strength requirements are directly related to the magnitude of the initial out-of-straightness or
plumbness. Stiffness requirements are generally a function of load, not E, and are valid in the elastic and inelastic
regions of member behavior (Gil 1999, Ales 1993). Prior to the adoption of bracing requirements in the AISC
Specification, engineers were on their own, usually adhering to past practice associated with only a strength
requirement such as a brace force equal to two percent of the column load.
The bracing model shown in Fig. 12 demonstrates the importance of both brace stiffness and brace strength on
column strength. The objective of the demonstration is to provide sufficient strength and stiffness to a brace located
at mid-height so that the column can support a load corresponding to an unbraced length of one-half the total length;
i.e. the column buckles into an S-shape. When the horizontal member is attached at mid-height, a sliding support
can vary the stiffness of the brace. Figures 12(a) and (b) show a brace with inadequate stiffness and Fig. 12(c) one
with adequate stiffness. In both these instances, the brace strength was sufficient and did not control. Otherwise,

the horizontal brace would have a permanent deformation when the column is unloaded. Note the difference in
applied load for these two cases.




Figure 12. Bracing Stiffness Model

Brace strength requirements are

evaluated using dead weights. A 1%
brace force is required to force the
column into an S-shape.
suspended weight (a few fishing
sinkers) forces the column against a
bolt stop that impose an initial outof-straightness. The 1% provision is
derived for an initial out-ofstraightness of L/500. When the
brace force exceeds the dead weight,
the column will move off the support
as shown in Fig. 13(a). When the
suspended weights were equal to 1%
of the maximum column load, the
column buckled into an S-shape
shape shown in Fig. 13(b).



Figure 13. Brace Strength Model


The model shows that both brace stiffness and strength can affect column strength. In the 3rd Edition AISC-LRFD
Manual of Steel Construction, the following statement appears on page 2-13.
Stability Bracing
Approximate Method
As an alternative to the more rigorous provisions for stability bracing in the LRFD Specification Section
C3, the historically approximate and generally conservative procedure of designing the bracing element for
a required strength equal to two percent of the factored compressive force in the braced member will
normally suffice.
This statement is contrary to published theory and physical experiments.


It is important to take the time to establish clearly why a structure is deflecting more than expected. Lack of
stability means lack of stiffness. In many instances, disasters could have been avoided if excessive deflections were
taken more seriously. Bracing details are important. A very small brace permits a main member to support a load
much larger than for an unbraced member. Larger factors-of-safety should be used for bracing members because
they are more important than the main member itself. The P concept suggests that a few stiff members (lightly
loaded elastic members) can effectively stabilize a system with highly stressed columns. The importance of
preventing slip at the ends of built-up members has been demonstrated.


AISC-SSRC (2003), Lecture 4-Frame Stability, from seminar entitled Basic Design for Stability
Ales, J.M. and Yura, J.A.(1993), "Bracing Design for Inelastic Structures," Proceedings, SSRC Conference "Is Your
Structure Suitably Braced?," Milwaukee, WI, April 6-7.
Canada Department of Railways and Canals ( 1919), The Quebec Bridge Over the St. Lawrence River Near the City
of Quebec on the Line of the Canadian National Railways, Report No.1, Ottawa
Committee to Investigate the Hartford Coliseum Roof Collapse (1978), Report to Court of Common Council, City of
Hartford, Connecticut, July 13,1978, 73p.
Gil, H. and Yura, J. A.(1999), Bracing Requirements of Inelastic Columns, Journal of Constructional Steel
Research, Vol. 51,No. 1, July, pp.1-19.
Hall, D.H. (1981), Proposed Steel Column Strength Criteria, ASCE J of the Structural Division, Vol. 107, No.
ST4, April, pp 649-670
Johnston, B. G. (1971), Spaced Steel Columns, ASCE J. of the Structural Division, Vol. 97, No. ST5, May, p 1465
McQuire, W.(1968), Steel Structures, Prentice-Hall International, Inc., London
Sherman, D. R. and Yura, J. A.(1998), Bolted Double-Angle Compression Members, Journal of Constructional
Steel Research, Vol. 46, n1-3, pp. 470-471, Proc, 2nd World Conference on Steel in Construction (CD-ROM),
Paper197, San Sebastian, Spain, May11-13
Tarkov, J. (1986), Quebec Bridge: A Disaster in the Making, Invention & Technology, American Heritage, Vol. 1,
No. 4, pp 10-17
Weidlinger Associates (2003), Miscellaneous Forensic Evaluation of the Marcy Pedestrian Bridge, Final Report &
Appendices, Aug, 61 p
Winter, G.(1960), Lateral Bracing of Columns and Beams, ASCE Transactions, Vol. 125, pp 809-825
Yura, J.A.(1971), The Effective Length of Columns in Unbraced Frames, Engineering Journal, AISC, Vol. 8, No.
2, pp. 37-42, April 1971. Discussions: Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 40-48, Jan. 1972 and. Vol. 9, No. 4, pp. 167-168, October