Influence of self-weight on size effect of quasi-brittle materials: generalized analytical formulation and application to the failure of irregular masonry arches

Micaela Mercuri, Madura Pathirage*, Amedeo Gregori, Gianluca Cusatis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Up to the beginning of the twenty-first century, most of quasi-brittle structures, in particular the ones composed by concrete or masonry frames and walls, were designed and built according to codes that totally ignored fracture mechanics theory. The structural load capacity predicted by strength-based theories, such as plastic analysis and limit analysis, do not exhibit size-effect. Within the framework of fracture mechanics theory, this paper deals with the analysis of the effect of non proportional loadings on the strength reduction with the structural scaling. In particular, this study investigates the size-effect of quasi-brittle materials subjected to self-weight. Although omnipresent, gravity-load is often considered negligible in most studies in the field of fracture mechanics. This assumption is obviously not valid for large structures and in particular for geometries in which the dead load is a major driving force leading to fracture and structural failure. In this study, an analytical formulation expressing the relation between the strength-reduction and the structural scaling and accounting for self-weight, was derived for both notched and unnotched bodies. More specifically, a closed form expression for size and self-weight effects was first derived for notched specimens from equivalent linear elastic fracture mechanics. Next, equivalent linear elastic fracture mechanics theory being not applicable to unnotched bodies, a cohesive model formulation was considered. Particularly, the cohesive size effect curve and the generalized cohesive size effect curves, originally obtained via cohesive crack analysis for weightless bodies with sharp and blunt/unnotched notches, respectively, were equipped of an additional term to account for the effect of gravity. All the resulting formulas were compared with the predictions of numerical simulation resulting from the adoption of the Lattice Discrete Particle Model. The results point out that the analytical formulas match very well the results of the numerical model for both notched and unnotched samples. Furthermore, the analytical formulas predict a vertical asymptote for increasing size, in the typical double-logarithm strength versus structural size representation. The asymptote corresponds to a characteristic size at which the structure fails under its own weight. For large structural sizes approaching this characteristic size, the newly developed formulas deviate significantly from previously proposed size-effect formulas. The practical relevance of this finding was demonstrated by analyzing size and self-weight effect for several quasi-brittle materials such as concrete, wood, limestone and carbon composites. Most importantly, the proposed formulas were applied to the failure of semi-circular masonry arches under spreading supports with different slenderness ratios. Results show that analytical formulas well predict numerical simulations and, above all, that for vaulted structures it is mandatory accounting for the effect of self-weight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInternational Journal of Fracture
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Closed-form analytical expression
  • Equivalent linear elastic fracture mechanics
  • Masonry structures
  • Quasi-brittle materials
  • Self-weight effect
  • Size-effect law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Mechanics of Materials


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