Assessing the stability of unreinforced masonry arches and vaults: a comparison of analytical and numerical strategies

Demi L. Fang, Rebecca K. Napolitano, Tim L. Michiels, Sigrid M. Adriaenssens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Despite being accepted as a robust assessment of masonry stability, thrust line analysis (TLA) relies on assumptions that can lead to a conservative assessment of stability. This article aims to quantify the extent of these limitations through a comparison of TLA with discrete element modeling (DEM). Two studies are provided. The first study compares TLA with DEM (using fixed input parameters) in assessing the stability of unreinforced masonry arches, semi-circular barrel vaults, multi-ring arches, and groin vaults. The tests demonstrate the types of sliding failures overlooked by the safe theorem due to its assumption of infinite friction. Following these validations, the comparisons between 2D structures and 3D counterparts also give insight into the efficacy of the slicing method. The second study examines the effect of DEM input parameters on the DEM-predicted stability of the considered geometries. While material parameters had limited effect on the determination of stability, for each typology, joint friction angle had a unique impact on stability. These trends are graphically presented and demonstrate how t/R ratios alone are not sufficient to unequivocally confirm stability of the considered vaults. Overall, this research informs the extent of safety for using the geometry-based analysis tool, TLA, for analyzing masonry structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)648-662
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Architectural Heritage
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 4 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Conservation
  • Architecture
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


  • Arches
  • discrete element modeling
  • distinct element method
  • graphic statics
  • limit state analysis
  • safe theorem
  • thrust line analysis
  • unreinforced masonry
  • vaults


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