July 19, 2023

High-rise structure efficiency, completion time look different thanks to SpeedCore composite modules

Cutting-edge construction system traces its beginnings back to Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue engineers are taking building possibilities to new heights with the university’s role in the research and development of an innovative high-rise construction process.

Amit Varma, Purdue’s Karl H. Kettelhut Professor of Civil Engineering, began work on the steel and concrete composite construction system, called SpeedCore, almost a decade ago with the technique’s creator, Ron Klemencic of the engineering firm Magnusson Klemencic Associates. Klemencic is a Distinguished Alumni honoree who earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Purdue in 1985.

Rainier Square, a 58-story building in downtown Seattle, was honored this year and in late 2022 for its use of SpeedCore, which cut construction time by 10 months, or close to 40 percent.

The SpeedCore research resumed a topic of interest for Varma dating back to his doctoral degree, which was based on columns using the same steel and concrete composite system.

“You could say that it was the little brother of the steel and concrete composite SpeedCore wall system. I always felt that it was an amazing idea, and it's time would come someday,” said Varma, director of Purdue’s Robert L. and Terry L. Bowen Laboratory for Large-Scale Civil Engineering Research.

SpeedCore essentially resembles a concrete sandwich, with parallel steel plates connected by metal rods in the space between the plates. The steel modules can be fabricated off site and brought into any construction layout and connected as needed. Concrete is then poured into the space between the steel plates, making the composite steel-concrete-steel sandwich system.

The earliest work on SpeedCore was in 2006 and funded at Purdue. At the time, Varma said an application for the construction process hadn’t been realized. Klemencic and Varma’s involvement brought potential use of SpeedCore into the realm of high-rise structures with early plans to use it on the planned 58-story Rainier Square building.

Varma worked extensively at Purdue to research some of the major safety aspects SpeedCore deals with at the central core of a high-rise building. High winds and earthquakes can cause varying levels of swaying that require a solid interior core to maintain the building’s safety.

“In addition to earthquake resistance, we also have looked at the fire resistance of this system because of the steel plates,” Varma said. “There's always the question of what fire is going to do to such a construction. So we've done actual testing and analysis and developed earthquake-resistant and fire-resistant design equations for the system as well.

“The behavior of steel structures under fire can be improved drastically by having a composite structure like SpeedCore because concrete does not heat up as fast. It creates a heat sink, and it provides stiffness to the steel structure. So composite construction like this is another way to get good fire resistance for a building.”

Varma received several awards, including the 2021 T.R. Higgins Lectureship Award from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), for his work on SpeedCore. Varma and his graduate students have published numerous journal articles and recently authored a Design Guide, published by AISC in 2023 for the SpeedCore systems.

There are additional plans for high-rise buildings using SpeedCore this year and in the future.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked in each of the last five years as one of the 10 Most Innovative universities in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at https://stories.purdue.edu. 

Writer/Media contact: Brian Huchel, bhuchel@purdue.edu

Source: Amit Varma, ahvarma@purdue.edu

Note to journalists: Video of SpeedCore modules is available online. A video of Varma discussing the SpeedCore construction system is available to AP Video Hub subscribers.

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