72782 - Mechanics of Historical Masonry Structures

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Sustainable cities

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

The goal of the course is to provide the students with the fundamentals for the analysis of historical masonry structures. In particular, the course treats the theoretical aspects, the numerical tools and the experimental techniques for an effective structural diagnosis of histrorical structures aimed at preservation and rehabilitation. Structures from different periods of histrory are analyzed.

Course contents


1. Fundamentals of Fracture Mechanics

  1. Linear elastic fracture mechanics: stress intensity factor and energy release rate
  2. Quasi-brittle materials: the cohesive model
  3. Size effects

2. Statics of Masonry Solids and Structures

  1. No-tension masonry models
  2. The masonry continuum
  3. Equilibrium and compatibility
  4. Collapse state

3. Masonry Strength and Deformability

  1. Tests on mortar or block (natural or artificial stones, or clay-brick) specimens
  2. Formulation of a tri-axial failure criteria for lapideous materials
  3. Micro-model or macro-model of masonry (fictitious-homogeneous)
  4. Masonry compression, tensile or shear strength
  5. Masonry deformation

4. Arches and Vaulted Structures

  1. Masonry arches: the concept of thrust and limit analysis
  2. Domes: membrane state, cracking patterns, brief description of some famous cases
  3. Barrel, polygonal, and cross vaults: membrane state, cracking patterns, brief description of some famous cases
  4. Exercises on collapse mechanisms of arches

5. Piers, Towers, and Gothic Cathedrals

  1. Piers: Compression strength under eccentric loading
  2. Towers: stability, typical cracking patterns (case histories).
  3. Cathedrals: Historical notes, construction techniques, relevant static problems in Gothic Architecture (case histories).


Basics of relevant approaches for Structural Conservation of Historical Constructions:

  1. Special Focus on Fiber Optics Sensor (FOSs) to detect deformation and Acoustic Emission (AE) to control crack propagation.
  2. Composite materials FRP or FRCM inhibiting collapse mechanisms
  3. First Aid post sisma contrasting masonry block tectonic movements

Applied analysis of theoretical topics developed within Module 1 point 5 of Temple structures (case histories such as churches) with special regards to:

  • structural comparison with a similar monument;
  • first aid intervention after possible seismic injures;
  • monitoring project for structural safety;
  • reduction of vulnerability with composite materials.



  • Class hand-outs (slides available on the IOL web site).

  • Fracture and Size Effect (in concrete and other quasi-brittle materials), Z.P. Bazant and J. Planas, CRC Press, 1998

  • Statics of Historic Masonry Constructions. M. Como, Springer, 2013.

  • The Stone Skeleton, J. Heyman, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

  • Structural brickwork, A.W.Hendry, MacMillan, 1981.

  • The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals, J. Fitchen, The Univ. Chicago Press, 1961.

Teaching methods

The course content will be entirely covered by the lectures. The course includes some invited keynote lectures, which will help cover the practical aspects of the lectures. The instructors will supervise students during all activities.

Assessment methods

A full comprehensive final (written and oral) exam will be used to assess students’ knowledge and understanding of the topics covered in the course.


The written exam will consist of two problems. The first problem will be related to the topics covered in section 2 (Fundamentals of Fracture Mechanics), and the second problem will be related to the topics covered in section 4 (Arches and Vaulted Structures) of the course content.


Discussion of the topic covered during the course.

In addition, a project related to the study of particular historical buildings will be assigned during the lectures delivered within Module 2: Gothic churches of San Petronio or San Francesco in Bologna; Garisenda or Asinelli towers.
Students will present their project at the end of the course (slides in pptx). The assessment of the presentation will be part of the final grade.

Students are encouraged to present and use their handwritten course notes during the oral exam discussion.

Teaching tools

The teaching tools are overhead projector and PC.

Office hours

See the website of Giovanni Castellazzi

See the website of Angelo Di Tommaso