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Statics of Masonry Domes

Prof. Christian Carloni


1. Membrane state
We consider first the membrane state. We will refer to those domes whose mid-surface can be
represented by the rotation of a curve about a vertical axis. In other words, the surface is axially
symmetric (Figure 1).

dsm r
r+dr
d

r2
r
dr 1
c

Figure 1
We will consider a small (infinitesimal) segment of a meridian dsm. Note that a meridian curve
is the curve used to obtain the mid-surface of the dome by rotation about the axis. The radius
of curvature of the meridian at a generic point is r1. r1 is one of the principal radii of curvature.
A small (infinitesimal) segment of a parallel (hoop) is dsp.
Note that the second principal radius of curvature is r2, which is related to the radius r of the
hoop:
r r2 sin

We can easily obtain:


dr
dsm r1d
cos

ds p rd

In Figure 2, an infinitesimal (elemental) portion ABCD of the surface of the dome is shown. Note
that if r is the radius of parallel AC then r=r+dr is the radius of parallel BD (see also Figure 1).
Thus, dsp is the length of AC and (dsp+drd)=rd is the length of BD.
With respect to the center of ABCD, we introduce the reference (local) system a, a, and an. a
is along the tangent to the meridian. a is along the tangent to the parallel. Finally, an is
perpendicular to the surface.
In Figure 3, we represent the membrane unit forces. Increments of the forces have been
considered between the force applied on one side of the surface and the same force applied on
the opposite side. The fours sides of the surface are parallels AC, and BD and meridians AB and
CD.
1
We will consider the equilibrium in terms of resultant of forces along the three directions
introduced earlier.

Figure 2 Figure 3
We start with the equilibrium along a. In Figure 4a, only the forces related to the equilibrium
along a are represented.
We will consider the contribution of each force to the equilibrium along a.

d
2/
a) r
r+dr
d
/2


r1

d)

b) c)

Figure 4

2
N
The angle between forces N rd and N d r 'd and the direction a is d/2 (as can

be seen in Figure 4d). Hence, when we project those two forces on a we obtain:

d N d
N rd cos N d r 'd cos
2 2

d
If we consider that cos 1 , the foregoing equation yields:
2

N
N rd N d r dr d

N N
N drd d rd d drd

N
N drd d rd

N r d d
N
Forces N r1d and N d r1d are parallel to a. When we consider their

contribution to the equilibrium along a we obtain

N N
N r1d N d r1d d r1d

N
The contribution of forces N r1d and N d r1d to the equilibrium along direction a

requires some additional comments. A top view of the two forces is shown in Figure 4b (note
that in the top view the increment of N on the right side has been neglected. Those two forces
are horizontal. Their resultant is named R, which is perpendicular to the axis of the dome and
can be obtained by projecting the forces along the direction perpendicular to the axis of the
dome:
d
R 2 N r1d sin
2
d d
Because sin , the resultant R is equal to R N r1d d . The component of R along a
2 2
is (Figure 4c):
N r1d d cos

Summarizing, if we consider all contributions including the load component p r1rd d (note
that r1rd d is the elemental surface ABCD), the equilibrium along a yields:

N r d d r1 d d r1 N cos d d p r1rd d 0

3
Let us consider the equilibrium equation along a. Figure 5 shows the forces involved in the
equilibrium along a.

a)

b)

a
Figure 5

N
First, we will consider the contribution of forces N r1d and N d r1d . Both forces

d
form an angle with a (see Figure 5b). Thus, the projection on a is:
2

d N d
N r1d cos N d r1d cos
2 2

d
If we consider that cos 1 , the foregoing equation yields:
2

N N
N r1d N d r1d d r1d

N
Forces N rd and N d r 'd are parallel to a. Thus, their contribution is:

N N N
N rd N d r dr d N drd d rd d drd

N r d d

4
N
Note that the term d drd has been neglected because it is an infinitesimal of higher order

with respect to the other terms. A similar approximation was performed earlier with the term
N
d dr d .

N
Finally, forces N r1d and N d r1d , whose lines of action intersect on the axis of

the dome, have a horizontal component (as shown in Figure 5b from a top view). The horizontal
components of those two forces provide a resultant R N r1cos d d . It should be noted
N
that the term d r1d cos has been neglected.

Summarizing, if we consider all contributions including the load component p r1rd d (note
that r1rd d is the elemental surface ABCD), the equilibrium along a yields:

N

r1d d

N r d d N r1cos d d p r1rd d 0
We need to consider the equilibrium along an. The forces involved in the equilibrium along an
are shown in Figure 6a.

a)

b)

Figure 6

5
N
If we refer again to Figure 4b and Figure 6b, forces N r1d and N d r1d have a

horizontal resultant, termed R, which is perpendicular to the axis of the dome and can be
obtained by projecting the forces along the direction perpendicular to the axis of the dome:
d
R 2 N r1d sin . The component of R in the direction of the meridian was used for the
2
equilibrium along a. The component along an is:
N r1sin d d

Note that the component is negative because the sense of the force is toward the axis of the
dome.

N
The angle between forces N rd and N d r 'd and the direction a is d(as can be

seen in Figure 4d). Hence, when we project those two forces on an we obtain:

d N d
N rd sin N d r 'd sin
2 2

d d
If we consider that sin , the foregoing equation yields:
2 2

d N d d N d
N r d N d r 'd N r d N d r dr d
2 2 2 2

Simplifying:

d d N d N d
2 N rd N dr d d r d d dr d
2 2 2 2

If we neglect the infinitesimals of higher order, the foregoing expression reduces to:
d
2 N rd N rd d
2
Summarizing, if we consider all contributions including the load component pn r1rd d (note
that r1rd d is the elemental surface ABCD), the equilibrium along an yields:

N rd d N r1sin d d pn r1rd d 0

The third equilibrium equation can be further simplified if one consider the relationship
r r2 sin :

N N
d d d d pn d d 0
r1 r2

6
If we consider once again the equilibrium equations and we divide each side of each equation
by d d :

N
N r r1 r1 N cos p r1r 0

N
r1 N r N r1cos p r1r 0

N N
pn 0
1
r r2

If the rotational equilibrium about an is considered, one obtains that N N .

In general, the solution of the system of differential equations is quite complex and only few
cases can be solved analytically. When the load is axially symmetric (for example the dead load
of the dome), only the third equation is needed. In fact, the shear membrane forces N , N
are zero everywhere. We can consider the portion of dome above a generic parallel. The free
body diagram (FDB) is shown in Figure 7a.

Pz Pz
an

m m m
a f m
r r

s m
r2 N R N
N N

2rN sin 2rN sin

Figure 7a Figure 7b
The resultant of the vertical component of the membrane forces N is:

2 rN sin

Note that the line of action of the resultant coincides with the axis of the dome. We will name
the resultant of the axially symmetric load Pz, whose line of action coincides with the axis of the
dome. Equilibrium along the vertical direction yields:
2 rN sin Pz 0

Once the force N is obtained, force N can be determined from the third equilibrium equation:
N N
pn 0 .
r1 r2

7
If a semi-spherical dome is studied, r1 r2 R . When the applied load is the self weight of the
dome itself, we obtain (Figure 7b):
pn m s cos

where m is the density of masonry and s the thickness of the dome, which is assumed constant.

The portion of the dome above a generic parallel is shown in Figure 7b. The height of the portion
of the surface of the dome is named f, which is equal to R 1 cos . If is the angle that defines
the portion of the surface (=0 is the top of the dome), the surface of the portion of the dome
is:
2 Rf

Hence, the volume of the portion of the dome and its weight are 2 Rfs and 2 Rf m s (=Pz),
respectively. The equilibrium in the vertical direction yields:
2 Rf m s 2 rN sin

Substituting f R 1 cos and R sin r , we obtain:

2 Rfs m 1 cos
N sR m
2 r sin sin 2

From the third equilibrium equation (keeping in mind that r1 r2 R and pn m s cos ):

1 cos cos 2
N sR m
1 cos

Figure 8 shows the plot of the membrane forces vs . Force N is always negative, which implies
that meridians are in compression. On the other hand, N is positive for greater than
approximately 50. The bottom part of the dome experiences tensile stresses along the
parallels. This observation is in agreement with what observed in masonry domes (see for
example the case of Saint Peter in Rome).
1,5
N
1 N
N , 0=8, p/msR=0.1
0,5 N , 0=8, p/msR=0.1
N/msR, N/msR

N , 0=8, p/msR=0.2
0 N , 0=8, p/msR=0.2

-0,5

-1

-1,5

-2
0 20 40 60 80
[]
Figure 8
8
Similarly, we can investigate the effect of the weight of the lantern (see Figure 9a). We will
consider the portion of the mid-surface of the dome defined by .
Pz
Pz an an
p p

m a f0 m m a f0 m
r r

s m s m
R N R N
N N

2rN sin 2rN sin

Figure 9a Figure 9b
The angle 0 defines the portion of the mid-surface where the lantern is placed. The height of
the portion of the dome is:

f 0 R cos 0 cos

If the weight of the lantern per unit length of the opening of the lantern is p (Figure 9b), the load
Pz is:
Pz 2 Rf 0 m s 2 pR sin 0

Note that load p is applied along the circumference that defines the opening of the lantern,
whose radius is R sin 0 .

The equilibrium equation in the vertical direction can be written as:


2 Rf 0 m s 2 pR sin 0 2 rN sin 0

which entails:
cos cos 0 sin
N sR m p 2 0
sin
2
sin

If we employ the third equation of equilibrium:

cos cos 0 sin


N sR m cos p 2 0
sin
2
sin

The plot of the membrane forces is provided in Figure 8. It can be observed that tensile stresses
in the parallels could extend beyond the parallel of domes without a lantern. Furthermore,
tensile stresses can arise near the lantern.