Investigation of the Structural Performance of Masonry Wharf Cellars in Utrecht Using the Distinct Element Method

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One of the characteristic features of the city of Utrecht is its extensive system of canals and wharf cellars, whose constructions date back as early as the 1200s, and which are now considered as one of the historical properties of the city. A typical wharf cellar in Utrecht comprises a masonry barrel vault with multi-layered rings for the cellar interior, masonry piers which are interconnected to the other wharf cellars, and spandrel walls for the façades. Due to increased traffic volume and urbanization which caused the increase of dead load and traffic load, it is important to assess the structural safety and state of maintenance of these historical structures. In this paper, a novel safety assessment framework for these structures is presented and applied to the analysis of a typical masonry wharf cellar in central Utrecht. The geometry of the cellar is first parametrically generated, which is then used to create a block-based numerical model for analysis using the Distinct Element Method (DEM), where bricks units are modelled as discrete blocks separated by zero thickness interfaces. Traffic loads in accordance with the Dutch Standard traffic model for regular vehicles and emergency service vehicles are calculated and the dispersion through the filling soil is modelled. The ultimate load due to these load configurations is then assessed. The analysis results can be used to identify the critical load cases and the failure mechanisms of the wharf cellar, while also providing general insights into the safety and stability of the cellars, thus aiding engineers in their efforts to extend the lifespan of these historical structures.