History of the Laboratory for Research on Structural Models

Prof. ir. Daniël Vandepitte, who is internationally well-reputed and recognised in the field of Civil and Structural Engineering, founded the Laboratory for Research on Structural Models (Laboratorium voor Modelonderzoek - LMO) in June 1958. The objectives and field of activity of the laboratory are reflected by its name: Research on Structural Models. After all, computer aided analysis and design was not yet possible at that time. The very first computer programmes date from the 1960’s, and computational methods were firstly taught to students by Prof. Vandepitte in 1969. For this reason, back in 1958 a new laboratory was founded to design unusual, complex structures, which could not be analysed with classical calculation methods, by means of experimental tests on scale models of such structures or on models or prototypes of their components. Examples dating from those early years of research at the laboratory are: the analysis of the concrete mushroom slab of the Bank Lambert, of the foundations of the Zuidertoren in Brussels, of a shell roof for Philips.

From 1969 onwards, intensive and large-scale research was performed on liquid-filled conical shells , and also the influence of creep on the failure load of domes subjected to radial pressure was investigated. In addition, numerous model tests were executed in the context of master theses, research projects and PhD’s. Among them were lateral torsional buckling tests on steel frames, experiments related to instability phenomena of buried tubular structures, tests on thin-walled metal pallet racking systems and on cold-formed roof and wall cladding components.

The rapid evolution of computer technology and the accordingly steep rise of software engineering have definitely impacted the activities at the Laboratory for Research on Structural Models. Since the end of the sixties, numerous co-workers have designed and/or introduced computer programmes to numerically analyse complex structures. However, even today essential research on structural models has in no way lost its relevance nor importance. It is beyond any doubt that  every calculation or theory is based on underlying hypotheses – regarding material laws for instance – which might be subject of incertitude. To validate numerical results, experimental testing is a valuable tool which also today is definitely still  state-of-the-art. Current research at the Laboratory for Research on Structural Models boasts on the synergetic effect of computational research and experimental testing on scale models.

Since more than a decade Prof. Dr. ir.-arch. Jan Belis and his team conduct intensive research on structural glass. He will agree with me that research on structural models has played a supporting and guiding and not to be underestimated role in that challenging domain . Furthermore, the formulation of new design rules within the framework of on-going PhD research on instability of steel cellular beams and on failure behaviour of cylindrical silos on local supports is simply unthinkable without research on structural models.

On the one hand side, I am very much aware that computational methods will play an even more important role than they already do today and we are definitely responding to that trend. However, on the other hand I know with utter certainty that experimental research on structural models will remain an indispensable research tool for the activities of our laboratory.

Prof. Dr. ir. Rudy Van Impe
September 2012

http://www.ugentmemorie.be/video/laboratorium-voor-modelonderzoek (Dutch movie)