Engineered timber - Appraisal of historical timber roof structures in 19th- and early 20th-century Belgium

Louis Vandenabeele, Inge Bertels, Ine Wouters

Research Architectural Engineering (æ-LAB)

Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology (IWT), 2015 - 2018

A better understanding in the history of construction enhances preservation of the built heritage. Yet, knowledge about 19th - and early 20th - century timber roof frames in Belgium is absent which makes current assessments and interventions extremely difficult for the professionals of the building sector (architects, engineers, public authorities, etc.).

Therefore this PhD research aims to document the developments in timber roof frames in the hitherto untreated time period of the 19th century, in the unexplored geographical area of Flanders and Brussels. Furthermore, the research starts from a new perspective as it investigates the influence of the new engineered material iron on the practice of building in timber. Finally, a practical and handy guideline will be provided for the professionals who are facing the assessment of such constructions.

To this end, the project is divided in three main phases. The first part consists of an in-depth study and reinterpretation of the abundant contemporary literature, in order to get insight into the historical knowledge of the timber material and its structural applications in the light of the many scientific breakthroughs that characterize the studied period. In a second phase, this theoretical knowledge will be confronted with a selection of existing Belgian case studies. As such, on-site investigations will provide complementary information about the actual applied materials and construction techniques. In the last phase, the findings of this study will be integrated in today’s practice under the form of a concrete tool for professionals. This tool will give, from a rapid visual inspection, a new set of innovative criteria which will improve the efficiency of the standard procedures (i.e. Eurocode 5) when they have to be applied to historical timber structures.

This project is carried out in collaboration with international researchers and construction professionals in the field of construction history, renovation and restoration practice, who contribute to a better understanding of the built heritage for its surveying, assessment, maintenance, restoration and upgrading.

PhD Researcher: Louis Vandenabeele; Promotors: prof. dr. ir. arch. Ine Wouters (VUB), prof. dr. Inge Bertels (VUB) and prof. dr. ir. Stefan Holzer (Universität der Bundeswehr München)