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The strip method: a new approach to the design of stabs!

By G. S. T. Armer
Experimental Officer.Building Research Station, Garston, Watford, Herts.

The article provides an introduction to the background and application of a Swedish method for designing reinforced concrete slabs. called the 'strip method'. In common with the better-known yield-line method, it is an ultimate-Ioad method. It can be applied to a wide range of complex slab problems and is remarkable for its simplicity in use. The method is dealt with in two main sections, simple theory and advanced methods. In the first, the application of the method to rectangular and irregular slabs loaded uniformly is described. The section on advanced . methods deals with the treatment of slabs supported on columns or carrying concentrated loads.




EARLY DESIGN methods for reinforced concrete slabs, which were based on the classical theory of elasticity, suffered from the simplifications introduced to provide tractable design rules, Design methods based on assumed elastic properties of reinforced concrete can provide information on deflections up to the point where so me part of the structure is stressed to its elasric limit, but are inadequate for predicting ultimate loads. Ultimate-load design theories for slabs which were based on assumed failure mechanisms and plastic properties of reinforced concrete appeared very early in the history of reinforced concrete. These were limited in relevance until Johansen propounded his yield-line theory in 1931. None of these theories provide information on deflection and they can be considerably in error (on the conservative side) in predicting ultimate loads, due to the neglect of membrane stresses and the strain-hardening and strain-softening properties of the reinforcement and the concrete, respectively. This conservatism is counteracted in practice by the fact that only rarely will the correet mechanisms be chosen, and an incorrect choice irselfwill result in an over-esiimate of the failure loado All the design methods briefly alluded to above are analytical and require some sort of description of a proposed structure before they can be applied; for example, in the case of a flat-slab spanning in two direetions. in addition to the loading and support conditions, the distribution of reinforcement must first be stated. Since the need to find the best distribution of reinforcement is the objecr of the designer, the shortcorning of the analytical method is obvious. In 1956 Hillerborg of Sweden published a paper called Theory of Equilibrium for Reinforced Concrete Slabs'v, in which he described the first method for practical design of slabs, as distinct from analysis. The method is extremely simple to apply, in that ir reduces the design problern to discovering a suitable division of the load amongst one-way-spanning strips (there is no connection with the Grashof-Rankine method here). At present, the theory can only take into account behaviour .at ultimate load and as yet there are no TUles for guidance towards minimum weight or optirnurn design, but it is the first

step towards direct designo This paper is intended to give a general introduction to the theory and its range of application. A more detailed account of its relationship to existing ultimate-load theories is briefly given in the Appendix.
Simple theory

The strip method can be conveniently dealt with in two sections, namely the 'simple theory' u, 2) and the 'advanced strip rnethod.' This second section, which was introduced by Hillerborg in 1959 in a publication called Strimlemetoden (3), is discussed later. The simple theory gene rally covers slabs of any shape which are loaded uniformly and supported continuously. The theory states that at failure, no load is carried by the twisting strength of the slab; that is, Mxy = O; and that the load is carried either by bending in the x-direction, or by separate bending in the y-direction. The equation for plate equilibrium 02 M x ox2 then reduces to 202 MXJ' , 02 M), oxoy oy2 02M,. _ O 02Mx oy2 , ox2 when referring Figure 1, or to the load 02Mx ox2
-p (x, y)




1 m

= O 02M,. = =P
' 01'2


t Crown

Copyright Reserved.

for Zone 2. A glance at these simplified equations shows that the load is carried by pure strip action-hence the title 'strip method.' The bending rnornents given by this field in a simplysupported rectangular slab are shown, in Figure l. Tbe broken lines on the slab mark lines of discontinuity in the moment field. These discontinuities mustsatisfy the co nditions':" that. across the disccntinuity, normal moments and shears must be continuous. These conditions are satisfied in this particular case and in some other relevant situations. A derailed treatment of this aspect of the method is given in reference (7). The loading, support .conditions and bending moments for typical sections are also shown in Figure l. It is obviously impracticable (o reinforce a slab to match this moment field exactly,


September 1968

The strip


a new approach

to the design

of slabs

and therefore Hillerborg chose to reinforce [he full-length section to withstand the maximum moment acting on it. As these maxima vary with the position of the section, he decided to have strips of uniform reinforcement giving a slab yield-rnornent equal to the average of the maxirna found in that strip.

The reinforcement can be curtailed to fit the bendingmornent diagram more closely if it is practical to do so. Strips 3 These are similar to Strips 1; therefore using equation (1), with 11 = O and lo "

= ~,

td = tp (2e a:

In Figure 2 a rectangular slab is divided into strips with arrows indicating the direction in which each strip spans. The slab is assumed to be loaded uniformly and sirnply-supported around the edges. The angle that the discontinuity makes with the long side can be chosen to pravide the most economical solution. Hillerborg suggested an angle of 45 for simply-supported edges; this is reasonably economical for length breadth .ratios of IIp to 2, but for larger ratios one-way spanning would be better. Strips 1 Frorn Figure 2 it can be seen that these strips have a width a, a span (d 2e), and are loaded in the triangular portions containing the arrows. The maximum bending moment M; in the strip varies frorn zero at its outer edge to t p (d 2e)2 (in which p is the load intensity) at the inner edge. The average value of M; (ma x .} can be found either by integrating across the strip or more simply by taking the average loaded length and using the correction factor K given by Hillerborg (se e Figure 3). The use of this latter method leads to the equation

design moment Strip 4 Again using equation design moment =st: [

= J..



1, with 11=

~e Id and 12
T "2

= a,

(a + 2e2~ d) ] K


(4ae + ad)2.


strip design moment in which 12

= t pK

(2 ~ 11)2



Il}s the average loaded length ofthe strip.

Therefore, from Figure 2, for Strips 1, 11 = O and = e td, and substituting equation (1), O I I design moment = t pK ( T ~ T"2 = pK (2e

+ d)2.

It must be remembered that the strips should be 'reinforced over their Iull Iengths for the calculated design mornents, and that the design moments calculated are al! per unit width of strip. The discontinuity pattern used in Figure 1 need not have been chosen and it has been suggested!" that the aiternative pattern shown in Figure 4 is preferable, since it avoids the troubles arising frorn oddly-shaped loaded portions on strips and the consequent averaging of mornents. It has one drawback in that it assumes zero moments in some parts of the slab. These parts must, however, be reinforced to the minimum level required by the code of practice CP 114, thus making the design possibly less econornic. One particularly useful feature of the method is that the support reaction is known at every point. This information is not readily forthcoming from any other practical (that is, hand-computed) method for slab design, and is required for the design of the supporting beams.
Irregular slabs

Strips 2 This is simply a uniformly loaded strip, as in section A-A in Figure 1, with the maximum M; = k p (d 2e)2.

Slabs containing holes are dealt with in a similar way, being divided into strips carrying the loads to the

-d:l O ::
U c:c

Figure 1 Hillerborg moment field for freely-supported rectangular slab. The heavy arrows indicate the directions in which the load is carried.



LJ t


Concrete September i 968

The strip


a new approach

to the design

of sJabs







100 Support

02 12



10 12





Design moment

for freely-supporred

= -tPK[~;



2 Freely-supported

slab divided into strips for design


Figure 3 Correction factor Kfor design moments in symmetrically-Ioaded strips. /1 and /2 are the minimum and maximum lengths of loaded portion of strip.


4 Aliernative discontinuity

lines showing the loading on

elements of the resulting strips.

Figure 5 Freely-supported slabwith an internal hole showing strips and resulting variations in the edge reactions.

l ,






\ \ \


--==t-i--- -----tI






t l -1[>< -----/


/ l / \

Loaded portion

/ t



Concrete September 1968

360 .

The strip


a new approach

to the design

of slabs



Fixed edge Free supparc Line of zero mamenc Disconcinuicy in mamenc field Baundary of side scrip


Figure 6(a) Irregularly-shaped wlth two built-in edges.


supports, with strong bands taking the load around the holc, as shown in Figure 5. A composite bearn/slab model with a hole has been so designed, tested (8) and pro ved satisfactory, both at working and at ultimate loads. Irregularly-shaped slabs can also be readily designed using the simple theory. An example with built-in edges is shown in Figure 6a. In this case Hillerborg suggests that the slab should be divided into crooked strips by lines of zero moment (Figure 6b). The positions of the lines of contraflexure may be chosen so that the support moments are between s and 2 times the maximum moment in the strip (which results if the angle between the support and the nearest line of contrafiexure is roughly one-fifth that between the two fixed edges). The moments in a strip are then calculated, on the assumption that the section between the lines of contraflexure acts as a simply-supported beam, which gives the shearing forces at the lines of zero moment, and that between these lines and the supports, the rest of the strip acts as cantilevers with distributed loads and concentrated loads at their ends. Hillerborg advises the use of a scale drawing of the slab in order to avoid laborious calculatioris for the strip lengths. Frorn these brief exarnples it can be seen that the simple theory readily leads to solutions for complicated slabs which could only be solved with difficelty using other methods. Such rules as ha ve been suggested are only concerned with economy of reinforcement and once the principie of dividing a slab into strips which are then treated as beams has been grasped, a designer can salve al! slab problems in the c1ass covered by (he theory. Advanced strip method The advanced strip method-" has been so-called by Crawford (9, 10) who made the first examination of the theory in English. This section of Hillerborg's work is much more difficult to understand and for that reason Crawford's title distinguishes it from the earlier part. The difficulty facing Hillerborg, having laid the foundations of the theory in his first paper, was to extend its practical application to slabs carrying concentrated loads or with column supports. This was, of course, the old problem of transforrning an essentially polar field into a Cartesian one whilst sti11satisfying all the boundary conditions. The first third of Strimlemetoden' is devoted to a somewhat abstruse attempt to produce a logical extension of the earlier theory to this end. It involves two-way spanning sections called 'type-3 elernents around the loads, for which Hillerborg produced complicated three-dirnensional moment-field diagrams!". He then appeared to abandon these in. favour of an 'approximate elastic theory.' In Figure 7 a slab is shown divided into elements for design by the advanced strip method. It will be noticed that the type-3 elements are bounded by zero shear lines (this means that all the load on these elements is carried by the column) and the rectangular and triangular type-I and type-Z elements, which only carry load in one direction, are bounded by discontinuities in the moment field, exactly ' as in the simple theory. Hillerborg states that, Ior static equilibrium, the full load on type-3 elements must be carried in both directions. Section A-A in Figure 7 shows the assumed loading at a typical strip section passing through type-3 elements. The bending-rnoment diagram shown results when the strip is designed as an elastic beam. The type-3 elements are assumed to be supported al! along those boundaries which pass through the point
Concrete 5eptember 1968

Figure 6( b) Demonstration irregularly-shaped slabs.

of crooked strip used to deal with



- ~-


. -~.;

The strip method: a new approach to the design of slabs

support. which is not strictly logical and obviously leads to low values for the negative moment near the support. This fault is remedied by reinforcing one-half of the element nearest to the column to take twice the computed moment, which gives a more suitable distribution of yield mornents. However, this method break s down for sJabs supported at the edges by columns, and in such cases Hillerborg reverts to his complex three-dimensional mornent fields referred to above. Two alternative approaches have been suggested!" which are more universal in application; the first uses an easily verified, strictly logical, moment field in the type-3 elements, design moments based on this having been tabulated in reference (7), together with design rules and a worked example. The second approach (7, 8) avoids type-3 elements completely, using uni-directional strip s to carry portions of the load and strorig bands between columns and supports which can be used to support strips at right-angles. In Figure 8 a possible strip distribution for a rectangular slab with one built-in edge and eight columns is shown. In spite of the simplicity of this approach, there is an embarrassing number of alternative solutions which can be obtained. The designer's knowledge of elastic behaviour should assist in deciding how to carry the load and, if required, one or two solutions can be examined in detail to determine the most economic final designo
General comments


11 '-.-






i t -TI




TI 1:-/
11: -;

! i lIT l :----;-f-----=--~







--~--------j,,------.=;:-:: t::-11




<, ~


Line of zero shear

The disparity between Hillerborg's strip method and a lower-bound analysis can be highlighted by trying a yield-line analysis on the ideal field illustrated in Figure J. Jt will be found that al! valid yield-line patterns will give the same collapse load as each other and as that predicted by the method. The strip method is, in fact, one of a group of design methods which can be classified generically as direct design methods (see Brotchie'P- 12).It do es .not lead to minimurn-weight design (see the above references to economy of reinforcement) but it is a step in the right direction, since the slabs are assumed to be yielding at all points at failure. The strip method theoretically leads to 'true' solutions and because of this, care must be exercised when averaging design moments, as there is no margin of safety, such as might reasonably have been assumed had the solution been a lower-bound one. In practice, the errors due to this deviation would generally be swamped by the conservatism of the basic assumptions of the theory, that is those concerning the flexural behaviour of slabs and rigid-plastic moment-curvature relationships for reinforced concrete, which neglect strain hardening. As yet, there is not a great deal of information available on the behaviour of slabs designed by the method. A number of model tests have been reported(8,13) al! of which indicate that it provides a safe estmate of the failing loado The method is specifically allowed by the relevant Swedish building authority'!" and apparently there is a considerable area of floor slab so designed which is behaving satisfactorily in service.

Figure di/erent

7 Rectangular slab with column support. showing types 01 slab elements.


8 Continuous slab supported on edge columns lor desig n

without type- 3 elements.


.- ----- --L -ff-a)p t -fo; t t

-----.. ..





The author is indebted to Dr. R. H. Wood of the Building Research Station for hisinvaluable help during the work on the strip method. This article is published by permission of the Director of the Building Research Station, and forms part of the programme of the Station.
Concrete September 1968

P , Imensity of distributed P. y. . T] and S < 1

- -----. ---- 1load

. . ~-1'







The strip method:

a new approach to the design of slabs

Appendix The section of the thcory of plast iciry known as limit analysis has two theorems callcd the upper- and lowerbound theorems. Thcse thcorems can, in some cases, be used direetly to determine the ultimate-Ioad capacity of slabs but, in general, a more practically-orientated method is required. Yicld-Iine analysis is one such method which is widcly acccpted to be in effect the applieation of the first (uppcr-bound) theorcrn, thus leading (o a solution whieh is 'true ' or unsafe within the limitations imposed by the assurnptio ns made in the theory. Hillerborg's papcr '!' on ihe strip method described it as a method for slab dcsign whieh was claimed to be based on the lowerbound theorem of hrnit analysis leading in this case to a solut ion which is always 'true' or safe, again subject to thc thcoretical assumptions. In fact, he appears to have stumblcd en a completely new method for solving nroblcrns of the dcsizn of reinforced concrete slabs by ~ynlhcsizing his solutions rather than the trial-andadjust rncnt approuch of al! analytieal methods such as yicld-Iinc theory. The logic of this approach is best seen when contrasted with the analytical procedure of the lo wcr-bo und technique. Prager!" has given the following definition Ior t he lirnit-analysis theorern governing lower-bound solut io ns ' .... In a rigid perfectly plastic continuum. plast ic flow cannot occur under loads for which a stable, slatically admissible stress field can be fcund.' Interpreting this for slab analysis, it means that for a

givcn slab any rnornent field satisfying the plate cquilibrium equation (notation after Timoshenko)

which does not contain moments exceeding the given slab-yield mornents at the relevant point and in the relevant direction, constitutes a lower-bound solution. In the context of reinforced concrete slabs, a 'given slab' means that as well as stating loading, support conditions and superficial dimensions, the reinforcement is stated to be isotropic, orthotropic or banded, etc. In practice this means that a designer searching for a lower-bound solution must find a solution to equation (1), matching as cIosely as possible the resistance moment field of the slab which he is analysing. This is obviously extrernely difficult and few good lower-bound solutions have been found [see reference (5) and (6)J. Hillerborg, facing the same problem, states only the loading, support conditions and superficial dimensions and the particular solution to equation (1) which he desires, usually with the twist M.<y being deliberately put equal to zero. AIl that is then required is to choose the reinforcement to provide resistance mornents for the slab which match this solution. These solutions gene rally involve continuously-varying moment fields and for practical reasons are averaged over bands or strips of finite width.


S AR MER, G. S. T. Ultima te Load Tests of Slabs Designed by the Strip-Method. Proceedings ICE. Vol. 40, July

HILLERBORG, A. 'Jarnviksteori Ior armerade betongplatter.' Betong, 1956. Vol. 41, No. 4, pp. 171-82. Building Research Station Translation LC1082. :2 HILLERBORG, A. 'A Plastic Theory for the Design of Reinforced Concrete Slabs.' Prelim. Pub. IABSE Proc. th Cong., 1960, Stockholm. 3 HILLERBORG, A. Strimlemetoden. Svenska Riksbyggen, Stockholm, 1959. CSlRO Division of Building Research Translation No. 2 by F. A. Blakey, Melbourne, 1964. 4 PRAGER. w. An Introduction to Plastcity. AddisonWesley, 1959. 5 WOOD, R. H. Plastic ami Elastic Design 01 Slabs and Plat es, Tharnes and Hudson, 1961. 6 KEMP, K. o. 'A Lower Bound Solution to the Collapse of a Orthotropically Reinforced Slab on Simple Supports.' Magazine 01 Concrete Research, 1962. Vol. 14, No. 41, pp. 79-84. 7 WOOD. R. H., andARMER, G. S. T. The Theory of the Strip-Method for Design of Slabs. Proceedings ICE. Vol. 40, July 1968.

1968. CRAWFORD, R. E. 'Limited Design of Reinforced Concrete Slabs. Ph.D. Thesis. University of IIIinois, 1962. 10 CRAWFORD, R. E. 'Limited Design of Reinforced Concrete Slabs.' Proceedings 01 the American Society 01 Civil Engin eers, 1964. Vol. 90 (EM5), pp. 32[-42. 1[ BROTCHIE, 1. F. 'A Concept for the Direct Design of Structures.' Civil Engineering Transactions 01 the lnstitution 01 Engineers, Australia, 1963. 415 (2), pp. 61-6. [2 BROTCHIE, J. F., and RUSSELL, J. J. 'Flat Plate Structures.' Proceedings 01 the American Concrete lnstitute, 1964. Vol. 61. No. 8, pp. 959-96. 13 TAYLOR. R., MAHER, D. R. H., and HAYES, B., 'Effect of the arrangement of r einforcement on the behavour of reinforced concrete slabs.' Magazine 01 Concrete Research, 1966. Vol. 18, No. 55, pp. 85-94.

14 Statliga


. Kornmunikations-departe-

mentet, Stockholm, 1957. 15 WOOD, R. H. 'The reinforcement of slabs in accordance with a predetermined field of moments'. CONCRETE, February 1968. O '.