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What are structures?

Structures are a set of arranged, ordered elements intended to support bodies. They are able to withstand external actions without completely breaking or being deformed. Structures can be the totality of the object they support or instead be just one part of it, such as the beams of a building.

All structures, regardless of what type they are, follow these three premises:

  1. They are composed of simple elements attached to each other.
  2. They resist external forces they are subjected to. 
  3. They keep a basic shape.

How are structures divided?

The order and relationship that exists between the parts of a structure facilitate the operation of a certain system, whether they are material or immaterial:

  1. Material structures: these may be natural or created through manufacturing or human intervention; they use physical materials in their configuration. This type of structure guarantees the order and operation of a system. Within this classification, there are:
    • Structures with organic systems, such as bone, which help support the body of an animal.
    • Architectural structures designed for a building’s operation.
  2. Immaterial structures: those that refer to processes, thought flows, relationships, or intangible information. For example:
    • Social structure, or the functioning of social groups in terms of how things are done, lines of thought, organization, customs, laws, etc. 
    • Business structure, or the way responsibilities are organized and distributed within a company. 
    • Thought structure, the processes of creating and assimilating ideas, starting from premises, inductions, and deductions. 

What types of structures are there?

Considering that structures may be the result of human intervention or may be independent of it, we can say that there are different types of structures:

  1. Load-bearing structures, which can be divided into construction, civil engineering, and mechanical structures. Their structural elements can be pillars, beams, arches, vaults, slabs, concrete slabs, ropes, etc. Airplanes, buildings, ships, and bridges have load-bearing structures that give projects solidity.
  2. Chemical structures, which entail molecular geometry through structural formulas to express bonds between atoms.
  3. Biological structures, ranging from atoms and molecules to tissues, organs, organisms, and ecosystems.
  4. Data structure, which offers a way to organize information in a computer system to analyze and use it efficiently. This structure represents the comprehensive part of an algorithm.
  5. Software structure, whose elements determine the requirements of the system being developed.

What are structures in construction?

In construction, all the elements joined and connected to each other that are capable of supporting loads and guaranteeing the static-resistant function of a building are defined as a structure.

Some structural elements in construction are:

  • Foundations, which are responsible for distributing the weight of the structure over the ground so that it isn’t in danger of sinking. This is the basis of the building.
  • Columns, which transmit the building’s load to the ground through foundations. Their function is to support the weight.
  • Walls, which support loads and also close in spaces. 
  • Arches, which complete the open space between two pillars or walls by means of interlocking pieces that create a curved line, transmitting all the load to the supports. 
  • Beams, which support loads through one or more supports.
  • Trusses, which act through flexion and work as a unit with other elements arranged to support a load, such as beams. They are usually used in large industrial buildings or warehouses. They are made from wood, steel, or concrete. 
  • Braces and turnbuckles, which act as ropes or cables to give structures rigidity.
  • Cross-sections, which consist of rolled steel bars with which lightweight structures capable of withstanding large weights can be assembled.

What forces are applied to support building structures?

In order to withstand their own weight, such as that of the building, as well as external forces like wind, structures use various types of force:

  1. Traction: a body undergoes traction when two opposite forces act on its ends, stretching it. This is the type of force applied by structural elements such as turnbuckles or braces. 
  2. Compression: a body undergoes compression when two opposite forces act on its ends, compressing it. This type of force is borne by the pillars and foundations. 
  3. Bending: a body undergoes bending when forces act on it that make it fold. This force is what acts on beams.

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