IF/WHEN: Structural Analysis

Version 1.1

The work of this project will not actually include the geological structural analysis that would be required for it to happen.  As can be seen in the "What" blog feed, the site and all rock masses being used for this project are fictional -- deliberately so, with the intention of limiting the scope of the project, avoiding for now the issues raised by the question of site selection -- providing instead a "for instance" illustration of the kinds of possibilities opened by the premises of the project.  Instead of actual structural analysis of a specific rock mass to be used for the proposed rock-cut architecture, what is offered here hopes to map out a proof of concept for how the project would proceed through the geological/structural aspects required for the project to actually happen.  The process of this project would go as follows:

  1. Select a site with a specific rock mass that has the desired properties (location/setting, structural, aesthetic)  
  2. Map the heterogeneous material composition of the rock mass, its existing fractures and other mechanical features, to the maximum level of accuracy possible with whatever state-of-the-art techniques/technologies are currently available, assuming unlimited time and money.  This begins from a question of what is currently possible:  what is the theoretical limit of accuracy achievable with our current technologies?  This is the first step of the research.  The end result of this step of the process would be an extremely detailed 3D model of the material and mechanical properties of this specific rock mass. 
  3. Once we have the 3D model of the existing material/mechanical properties of the rock mass, the next phase of the work would requires analyzing this model with current state-of-the-art structural simulation -- fracture propagation, structural loading within the mass' heterogeneous composition, etc... again, the initial research is a question of the theoretical limits of accuracy with the tools we have today.  With what degree of accuracy can our models predict the structural consequences of subtracting from the rock mass?  
  4. Step 3 would be simultaneous with the design phase of the architecture of the project, so that the subtractions of the design can be tested through our models before any rock is actually removed.  Of course, there are limits to how accurate our computational simulations can be -- which is exactly the question being researching.  The goal is that through using the digital simulations the design can accommodate and negotiate the mechanical features of this specific rock mass.  The design would be specifically tailored to this one specific rock mass.  This is why it is necessary to push beyond the usual methods of determining "safe enough" within geological engineering.  The architecture would begin from the properties of the rock mass itself, with the design being articulated from there -- subtractions can be positioned around problematic fractures, and structurally demanding features can be targeted within the most monolithic portions of the rock mass, etc.  The degree that the design can do this depends on the quality of results gotten out of steps 2 and 3.

Selected references for Step 2 gathered so far:  

Nested geological modelling of naturally fractured reservoirs  
Application of 3D X-ray CT scanning techniques to evaluate fracture damage zone in anisotropic granitic rock
Computational Fracture Mechanics:  A survey of the field
Animation: 3D modeling of in-situ heterogeneous material composition (in this case, for gold)

Selected references for Step 3 gathered so far:  

3D imaging of fracture propagation using synchrotron X-ray microtomography  
3D Numerical Modeling of a Couple of Power Intake Shafts and Head Race Tunnels at Vicinity of a Rock Slope in Siah Bishe Pumped Storage Dam, North of Iran  
Modeling discrete fracture networks using nuero-fractal-stochastic simulation  
Fracture Mechanics Numerical Modeling – Potential and Examples of Applications in Rock Engineering 

The sketch above is put together from my own research, which falls entirely outside of my area of expertise.  I am deeply grateful to both Lena Vafaey and Erik Eberhardt (Professor, Geological Engineering @ UBC):  Under Erik's guidance Lena will be doing further research on the geological engineering aspects of this project -- moving it from rough sketch closer to the goal of a proof of concept.