Professor Patrick de Wilde from the University of Brussels gave a special lecture on Structural Studies for the restoration of the dome of the Brussels Court of Justice building.

This is part of the rich architectural heritage of Belgium built in the 19th Century, particularly after the 1850's which was a period of crisis for the local architecture. This gave origin to neo-classicism with its' roots in Roman and Greek architecture also incorporating some Gothic elements.

The Court of Justice is the work of Jozef Poelaert (1817 - 1879) who instilled in the building a strong sense of symmetry. The Palace of Justice was built between 1866 and 1833 and the budget was hugely over run by more than 6 times its initial estimate!

In September 1944 the domes were destroyed by the occupying forces and caused the total destruction of the original upper dome and later severely damaged the lower dome of the two domes. Following this there was a restoration of the domes after the war in 1947. The new upper dome was welded better then riveted as originally. The lower dome was rebuilt.

The domes were basically supported by a truss structure which has developed considerably. The material properties of the steel, particularly in the lower dome, was very poor due to the manufacturing process providing a brittle material.

The study consisted of two dimensional modelling for the individual trusses and a simulation of all of them in a fully three dimensional model. The investigation was carried out using a series of load cases and incorporating different boundary conditions, including foundations. It was found during this research that the structure did not comply with maximum stress and buckling levels according to European Codes. This, Patrick thinks, seems to be the case for most heritage structures. Because of this, several more studies were carried out and this led to the recommendation of not using the space between the two domes for public functions as was the original intention.

The lecture was followed with great interest and resulted in a lively exchange with the audience.

Patrick is a member of the Board of Directors of the Wessex Institute of Technology and has participated in many projects and conferences organised by WIT.