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Structural Engineering

24 January 2024

Structural Engineering is the art of economically designing buildings, bridges, and other structures to support their contents and protect them from extreme environmental events such as wind, snow, fire, or earthquakes. Learn more.


Structural engineers are responsible for:

  • Assessing the loads that will be applied to a structure throughout its lifetime
  • Working out how the structure will support those loads
  • Selecting materials, components and connections for the structure that will carry the loads both safely and without excessive deformation
  • Planning a safe construction sequence
  • Preparing drawings and specifications for the complete structure
  • Supervising the construction to ensure the plans are followed

Structural engineers work closely with architects, contractors, quantity surveyors and regulators. They also consult building service, earthquake, environmental, geotechnical, hydraulic, roading and traffic engineers for specialist advice.

Structural Engineering at UC

The Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering at University of Canterbury has gained worldwide recognition for its extensive theoretical and experimental research in the behaviour of reinforced concrete, prestressed concrete, steel and timber structures over the past 30 years.

The current research themes are:

  • Damage free structural systems in: prestressed concrete, steel, timber
  • Seismic assessment/retrofit of existing structures
  • Fibre reinforced concrete for seismic applications and economical steel flooring
  • Multi-storey timber buildings
  • Advanced construction materials

The departmental Structural Engineering research laboratories are the largest and best-equipped in New Zealand. The labs permit a large range of static and dynamic testing. Besides research, the main structural engineering laboratory is used for demonstrating behaviour of various structural systems to undergraduate students complementing the knowledge they gather in theory classes

Major laboratory breakthroughs
  • 1960's - Mechanism of shear resistance in reinforced concrete beams (Fenwick and Paulay)
  • 1970's - Diagonally reinforced coupling beams (Paulay)
  • 1980's - Strength and deformation of reinforced concrete structures (Park, Paulay and Priestley)
  • 1990's - Precast floors in seismic structures (Bull)
  • 2000's - Refinement of practical and usable damage free structural systems
Main Structural Laboratory

The main laboratory comprises two large prestressed concrete strong floors (104 m2 and 28.7 m2) for structural testing. It is serviced by a 7.5-ton overhead crane. Laboratory equipment includes:

  • 10 MN Dartec Universal Testing Machine
  • Hydraulic actuators with capacity up to ±2000 kN, and strokes of ±200 mm
  • 1000 kN Avery Universal Testing
  • 100 kN Avery Universal Testing Machine
  • 2500 kN Avery Block Testing Machine
  • Uniaxial 8 m2 shaking table with maximum displacement ±150 mm, maximum velocity ±100 cm/sec, maximum acceleration ±1 g, and loading mass 200 kN.

The laboratory is well equipped with movable reaction frames and measuring devices which include load cells, accelerometers, LVDTs and potentiometers. A number of digital controllers and data acquisition units are also available.


Structural Extension Laboratory

UC structural extension labThe extension wing is specifically for large scale testing. It has a 97.5 m2 strong floor and is serviced by a 7.5-ton overhead crane. The laboratory can accommodate two-story specimens with a maximum floor area of 50 m2.


Concrete Material Laboratory

The concrete material laboratory is a specialized extension of the structural laboratory for research on cementitious construction material. The laboratory is currently being enlarged and updated.

The following academic staff members are involved in structural engineering research. Their international expertise as well as collaboration with other departments and top-level overseas visitors provide exceptional laboratory research. Contact the department here.

  • Anthony Abu
  • Brendon Bradley
  • Reagan Chandramohan
  • Rajesh Dhakal
  • Chin-Long Lee
  • Minghao Li
  • Giuseppe Loporcaro
  • Greg MacRae
  • Chris McGann
  • Alessandro Palermo
  • Allan Scott
  • Tim Sullivan

Study structural engineering

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