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Second generation lift slab

Walls unfold as slabs rise . . .

and continuous vertical reinforcement provides earthquake resistance


How the system works


sophisticated second-generation lift slab construction technique is bringing much of the efficiency of factory production to
jobsites in Mexico. Reinforced concrete bearing walls and slabs are
cast in a single stack at ground level
in a patented method invented by
Mexico City structural engineer
Pablo Cortina. Within two years of
its introduction the system has del i ve red a million square feet of
apartments in more than 200 buildings in Mexico City and Las
Truchas, Mexico.
Use of bearing walls, ingeniously
hinged to unfold beneath the floor
slabs, eliminates the expensive permanent lifting collars needed for
conventional lift slab work. The expense of forming columns is also
eliminated since the stack is lifted
on reusable temporary metal
columns set outside the structure
proper. Only perimeter forms are required for the slabs and walls. Also,
since the walls are cast horizontally,
no form ties are needed and there
are no tie holes to patch.
Speed as well as economy charact e ri zes the new method. Once the
foundation slab is done, two 5-story
buildings can be completely cast
e ve ry 10 working days on large projects. Fo u r- s t o ry apartment buildings have been routinely occupied
less than 90 calendar days following
ground-breaking. A 5-story building
requires about 2 hours per floor for
the cycle of lifting, wall-plumbing
and rerigging.

As for any other building, foundation design and construction are

The ground-floor, steel-troweled slab

(on a conventional foundation) is
coated with a bond breaker. Perimeter
forms are set, reinforcement placed,
window and door frames positioned,
and electrical conduits installed
before concrete is cast in the wall

Walls and slabs are cast alternately

one above the other until the entire
building is ready in a single stack.
After curing, temporary lifting
columns are set up outside the
building with trusses between them
supporting the lifting jacks.

As lifting commences the whole

stack is raised and the attached
lower set of walls unfolds.

The lifting trusses are moved up

the columns, the stack is raised
again, and the second-story walls
unfold just as the first-floor walls

Here a 5-story apartment building

nears completion as the fourth set
of walls is almost plumb.

Erection is complete and the lifting

equipment has been transferred to
an adjoining building. The temporary
columns will be removed soon while
workers proceed with rapid finishing
of the apartments.

View of completed apartment at Las Truchas, Mexico. Wall areas not

included in the folding plan were filled with brick and window units. Note
decorative vertical grooves which were formed with strips of drywall

governed by subsoil conditions but

the ground-floor slab receives a
smooth steel-troweled finish
against which the first-floor walls
will be cast. Ducts are provided for
seismic anchoring of walls to the
foundation slab and extra footings
are cast outside the building to support the steel lifting columns.

Casting walls and slabs

As in ordinary lift slab work, a
coating of bond breaker must be applied to the base slab before the
next layer of concrete is placed.
Perimeter forms are set for the
walls, which are cast horizontally on
top of the foundation slab and, in
turn, on each succeeding floor slab.

The reinforcing steel, electrical conduits, window and door frames, and
lifting and hinge hardware are set in
place for each wall panel before
concrete is placed and finished.
Smooth troweling is required to ensure a good surface on the next slab
cast above. Perimeter forms are set
back from the edge of the slab a distance equal to the wall thickness so
that, since the walls later pivot outward into position, a flush wall-toslab fit exists after erection.
Perimeter forms can be stripped
the morning following casting.
Spaces between wall panels are
then filled level using waste materials to complete the casting bed for
the floor slab above. The lower surface of the wall panel (as cast) becomes the outside face of the building; it can be textured or patterned
by placing liners or rustication
strips on the slab surface before setting the wall steel in place. The
smooth-troweled upper surface of
the panel becomes the inside wall
surface of a room and also serves as
the casting bed for the ceiling
On the two developments completed in Mexico, concrete comp re s s i ve strength was 2800 psi or
greater and the walls were 6 inches
thick. Floor slabs were also 6 inches
thick at the Las Truchas project but
an 8-inch waffle slab design was
used in Mexico City. Voids in the
waffle were formed with pairs of
lightweight concrete blocks which
remain in place permanently. The
resulting exposed ceiling surface
was plastered.
Floor plan dimensions must be
integrated with the height of the
walls. Since the self-erecting walls
are all cast in one plane and cannot
overlap, the designer selects appropriate ones consistent with the
geometry of the building. Most important are the outside walls or
maximum portions of them on all
faces of the building because they
provide two-way lateral stability
during the erection process. Secondarily, some of the interior structural walls may be selected for the initial placement and then other

Architectural plan and wall folding plan for a building containing four efficiency apartments per floor.
interior walls chosen to fill in as
many horizontal spaces as possible
according to the floor plan.

Rigging for liking

After the entire stack of walls and
slabs has been cast and cured long
enough for the roof slab to gain satisfactory strength, the job can be
rigged for erection. Temporary steel
pipe columns taller than the finished building are erected in pairs
on their own footings outside the
stack of walls and slabs. Each of
these columns can take up to a 50ton working load and the maximum
weight of the initial lift determines
how many are used.
Each pair of columns is joined by
a steel truss which carries two hydraulic jacks. The columns have
special horizontal shear pin connectors for supporting the trusses at
several elevations. A manually operated winch on each column lifts the
trusses and jacks (under no load) to
sequential stations. The central control console and power source for
the lifting jacks are set up on the
roof slab but the trusses are always
positioned as low as the erection of
an individual floor will allow; the
shear pins supporting them are
moved pro g re s s i vely higher as the
lift proceeds.
Jack-to-slab connections are
made from the roof downward with
chain-like devices attached separately to each slab. Each of these devices, bolted to lifting hardware cast
into the edge of a slab, has a horizontal lifting flange which extends

Second-stage lifting of 4-story apartment house. Permanent seismic stability is

achieved by placing rebars through cast-in-place ducts in the slabs and walls
(seen along the top edges near the ends of each wall panel) and then grouting
the voids. vertical drywall strips in the panels will be removed before painting to
create a pattern on the finished walls.
under the slab edge. The system is
designed so that the top or roof slab
lifts off from the next slab about 5/8
inch before the hardware for the
next slab below engages and causes
the slab to rise. The other slabs follow in similar sequencewith each
individually supported and not carrying the load of other slabs on top
of it.

While the scene is readied for the
first lift, the trusses and jacks are

hand-winched to an elevation that

will permit jacking the stack high
enough to let the bottom-most walls
swing into vertical position. As power jacking commences, the entire
stack is bodily elevated and the lowest set of walls unfolds, sliding
harmlessly across the floor and
swinging toward the vertical. A simple hinge connection (described later) permits the walls to pivot about
the desired axis without ru p t u ri n g
the concrete. When the walls are
nearly vertical, jacking stops and the

panels are plumbed by laterally positioning their bottom edges.

After that manual adjustment is
completed, the entire stack is lowered onto the load-bearing walls of
the first floor to temporarily unload
the jacks. The second-floor slab,
now in place, is disconnected from
the lifting rods of the jacks by removing the lowest set of lifting fixtures; it is then temporarily bolted
to the lifting columns to increase
stability while erection proceeds for
other floors. The unloaded jacks and
supporting trusses are winched to
the second position and supported
on relocated shear pin connectors.
The sequence is then repeatedthe
remaining stack is lifted, thus unfolding the second set of walls and
positioning the third-floor slab. The
same process continues floor by
floor until the entire building is
For apartment buildings with approximately 1200 square feet per
floor, such as those in the Mexico
City project, only about 2 hours are
required for each floor to lift, plumb
the walls, set off the stack, and re ri g
the jacks. As soon as the roof is in
place, all temporary structures can
be removed to the next building to
repeat the erection procedure.

Consisting of reinforced concrete,

all load-bearing walls are placed in
pairs in both directions to strengthen and stabilize the structure. Although the geometry of the folding
plan will not permit all of the walls
to be included in this plan, as many
walls as possible should be to minimize the amount of fill-in needed
when completing the casting bed;
all those that are self-erecting
should be structural walls. Any external walls not included in the lift
are constructed later with masonry,
windows or louvered panels and
can be planned as decorative aspects of the facade. Co n ve n t i o n a l
stairwells need not be a finishing
bottleneck since the system permits
lifting the staircase stringers flat,
tilting them into position after wall
erection and then installing individual precast steps.


Earthquake resistance

An important part of the system is

the hinge between the floor slab and
the wall panel cast below. This hinge
permits the walls to fold out into position as lifting progresses. Spaced
12 to 18 inches apart, each hinge is
composed of two pieces of 332- to 14inch-diameter cable strand looped
around rebars in the top of the wall
panel and later tied to reinforcing
bars in the floor slab cast on top of
the panel.

The top and bottom perimeter

forms for the walls contain a series
of circular openings. Before the
walls are cast, 212-inch-diameter
greased pipes are laid in parallel
through these openings to form
ducts which will run vertically when
the walls have been erected. These
ducts are used for later installation
of seismic reinforcement. The
greased pipes are removed about 2
1/2 to 3 hours after casting and used
again in other walls. Ducts of the
same diameter are formed vertically
at corresponding locations in the
floor slab. Thus when the walls unfold, the wall and floor ducts come
into alignment and permit making a
continuous structural connection
through the walls and outside edges
of the slabs from foundation to roof.

Finishing for this type of building
is conventional but faster than usual. The time and expense of plastering can usually be eliminated because the walls are unblemished by
form ties and thus ready for painting. Electrical rough-in requires on-

ly a few connections before wiring

and closing (with fixtures). The
floors are ready for installation of
coverings and the ceilings can be
textured and painted. At Las
Truchas the forty 4story apartment
buildings completed were routinely
occupied in less than 90 calendar
days after groundbreaking .

Design concepts

Following erection of each set of

floor and wall slabs, vertical reinforcement is placed in the ducts and
the voids filled with expansive
grout, thus providing added stability against lateral forces. The effectiveness of this reinforcement was
demonstrated at Las Truchas in
1975 when 27 of the 4-story buildings rode outundamageda 6.3and a 6.6-Richter-scale earthquake
in an area that otherwise suffered
s e ve re l y. One building that was being erected by this system at the
time of the quake also escaped

Although the system is applicable
to many types of buildings, it is most
economical for short-span, conventional reinforced concrete where the
desired stiffness can be obtained
without excess weight. It is best applicable to sizable projectssay 50
to 150 buildingsalthough these
need not be at a single site. With the
system, a developer can organize
and work efficiently, for example, on
10 buildings at each of 10 different
locations within a 250-mile radius.
Motels, dormitories and small
apartment structures would seem to
be ideal applications. Since there is
little complicated forming, the system is especially suited to areas
where skilled labor is lacking. Although the structures built thus far
are 4 and 5 stories high, the method
can be used for buildings up to 10
stories high and a 2-story, single
dwelling has been prototyped. Additional projects have been licensed
for construction in Venezuela and

Copyright 1977, The Aberdeen Group
All rights reserved