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CROSS Safety Report

Provision for movement in clay brickwork facades

Report ID: 860 Published: 2 February 2023 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

A reporter raises concerns over the detailing and construction of horizontal movement joints in clay brickwork facades. 

Key Learning Outcomes

For architects, design engineers and the construction team:

  • Good design coordination and detailing of movement joints in brickwork facades can help prevent issues occurring at a later date
  • Quality control and competent supervision on-site can help to ensure movement joints are constructed in accordance with the design intent
  • Consider having the project structural engineer attend site to inspect the installation of movement joints during construction

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A reporter is concerned that not all architects and structural engineers are aware that horizontal movements joints in brickwork facades must be designed to take account principally of: 

  1. Long-term moisture-induced expansion of the clay brickwork
  2. Short-term deformations of the building frame and, in particular, reinforced concrete frames
  3. Long-term creep of reinforced concrete frames

In addition, the width of the horizontal joint must take into account the compressibility of the gap filler material and the external sealant. In such joints, the brickwork above is supported by a stainless steel angle bracketed off the building frame. If the joint is inadequately designed and the initial gap is too narrow, the horizontal joints “lock-up” with time and the brick panels go into compression. This can lead to bulging (Figure 1), instability and danger of collapse with consequential public safety issues.

Image
Figure 1: bulging of brickwork at movement joint location

Although the architect is normally responsible for the holistic design of the joint, input is required on the range of movement from the structural engineer. It is not simply sufficient for the structural engineer to size the angle and 'walk away' – as often happens. Because the joint design is a dual effort the structural engineer also has at least a duty of care, if not a contractual obligation, to review the holistic design of the joint to ensure it is functional. 

Inspection of such joint's during construction is also a necessity and should be insisted upon. Normally the structural engineer’s input is complete by the time the facades are being constructed and the architect is responsible for the site inspection role. In my opinion, however, the structural engineer should continue to be involved in inspecting the horizontal joints as they are being built – and the appointment and scope should reflect the same.

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