Editorial Feature

Analyzing the Materials and Construction Processes Employed in Tabique Walls

Tabique walls (TWs) are found in old constructions/buildings in Portugal. This article, drawing on research in the journal Architecture, Structures and Construction, investigates the TWs to provide more insight into their construction mechanisms and the materials used.

Tabique Walls (TWs) are light timber walls made of diagonal and/or vertical boards filled in and covered with mortar. They are found in old buildings in Portugal, mostly inside the buildings, and serve as partition walls. Most experts consider them insignificant.

The current study puts forth the results of an analysis of TWs, which aids in understanding the value of this technique. The investigation complemented the study on the assessment of the mechanical behavior of TWs by shear-compression and compression tests on full-scale specimens in the lab and in situ.

A better understanding of the materials and mechanisms employed in its construction is a better means to evade inadequate and even disproportionate rehabilitation interventions. The gathered information refers to the location of TWs in the buildings, their material and geometrical characteristics, and construction details.

The analysis included 11 buildings representative of vernacular architecture. And these buildings had two to three floors and are mostly residential. (see Figure 1a and b).

Examples of the built heritage in the historic center of Viseu, (a) and (b), with interior (c) and exterior (d) tabique walls.

Figure 1. Examples of the built heritage in the historic center of Viseu, (a) and (b), with interior (c) and exterior (d) tabique walls. Image Credit: José Padrão

The exterior and the interior walls of the building in contact with the ground are of granite stone masonry (see Figure 2a and b). The floors and roof structure are of solid timber, and the roofs are covered with ceramic tiles, and the walls are covered with mortar.

Example of a building with TWs: architectural plans of the (a) basement, (b) ground floor, (c) upper floor, and (d) structural plan of the upper floor.

Figure 2. Example of a building with TWs: architectural plans of the (a) basement, (b) ground floor, (c) upper floor, and (d) structural plan of the upper floor. Image Credit: José Padrão

Figure 2 illustrates the architectural and structural plans of an upper floor. The buildings investigated were under deep rehabilitation works which resulted in a partial or total demolition of the inside.

Tabique Walls’ Characterization

Most traditional construction techniques use natural resources. Timber being largely available, resistant, light and easy working material were used extensively in constructions worldwide.

The TWs follow a light timber wall variant technique. The main structure has vertical, or vertical and diagonal boards and metallic connectors.

TWs depended on the local resources and the knowledge of the builders, similar to all traditional techniques.

Solid timber is the major component providing resistant capacity to the TWs. Four variants of the most common TWs typologies were observed in the buildings and Table 1 shows a brief description along with a reference picture.

Table 1. TWs’ classification according to their constructive typology. Source: José Padrão

The typologies showed distinct variations and the variation was most notable between T1S and others. The TWs construction system underwent changes and involved modifications. Table 2 depicts the major evolutionary differences identified.

Table 2. Differences between older and latter construction systems. Source: José Padrão

Older building system Latter construction system
Wood elements
  • Vertical elements have smaller width (cross-section closer to a square—props) and larger spacing
  • The slats have a higher width and spacing, and a rectangular cross-section
  • Vertical elements are much larger than thick (boards) and have small spacing
  • Slats have smaller width and smaller spacing, and a rectangular or, the most usual, trapezoidal cross-section
Note: the most recent TWs present a more careful choice of the elements (more homogeneous sections, especially in the better-constructed TWs)
Mortar
  • Earth based mortars with larger particles (stones, construction waste, etc.)
  • Use of elements of vegetal origin, such as straw, to improve cohesion
  • More homogeneous earth-based mortars
  • Use of lime to improve cohesion
Metallic connectors
  • Use of forged steel connectors, manufactured in small local workshops
  • Connectors have variable section
  • Use of low carbon steel connectors, industrially manufactured
  • Connectors have constant section

 

The 11 buildings were grouped into two to study the differences in the construction technique of TWs. Figure 6 illustrates an example of buildings inspected in each group.

Inspected buildings belonging to (a) Group I e (b) Group II.

Figure 6. Inspected buildings belonging to (a) Group I e (b) Group II. Image Credit: José Padrão

Table 3 lists the average dimensions of the evaluated timber elements and Figure 7 illustrates the nomenclature.

Table 3. Timber boards dimensions, by type of construction. Source: Padrão, et al., 2021

Comparison by constructive typology
Typology Vertical / diagonal boards (mm; º) Slats (mm)
A1 A2 B1 B2 C1 C2 α (º) D E F
Simple Tabique Walls
  T1S
    Group I 80 68 231 55 12 56
    Group II 95 277 65 17 96
  T2S
    Group I 173 50 41 29 11 46
    Group II 130 46 52 36 11 45
  T3S
    Group I 189 51 25 40 14 49
    Group II 136 55 36 37 12 44
Double Tabique Walls
  T4D
    Group I 184 197 62 34 43 24 27 34 14 38
    Group II 179 220 55 34 30 23 32 34 14 38

 

Nomenclature used in the measurement of TWs’ timber boards in Table 3.

Figure 7. Nomenclature used in the measurement of TWs’ timber boards in Table 3. Image Credit: José Padrão

A specific feature of simple TWs in the Viseu region is the use of diagonal boards or props. Numerous constructive dispositions were observed and were organized into four major groups (see Figure 8).

Constructive disposition for diagonal boards.

Figure 8. Constructive disposition for diagonal boards. Image Credit: José Padrão

Construction Details

The connections between the different timber elements and the other structural elements play a significant role in the complete structural behavior of the building. A change in the kind of metallic connectors used was noticed. Figure 9 depicts the change in the shape of nails used.

Evolution of nails/dowels used (a) in old TWs and (b) in more recent TWs.

Figure 9. Evolution of nails/dowels used (a) in old TWs and (b) in more recent TWs. Image Credit: José Padrão

The size and type of nails and dowels linked to their function are listed in Table 4.

Table 4. Dimensions of metallic connectors (nails / dowels). Source: Padrão, et al., 2021

Connection type Building No. of samples Typology Dimensions—Average values (mm)
Length (L) Connector Head (C) Cross section (D)
CT1 Bd 1 14 MCS 24,2 2,2 1,0
CT2 Bd 1 9 FVS 88,3 12,2 4,8 (*)
CT3 Bd 1 28 MCS 45,8 5,6 2,3
Bd 2 11 MCS 59,6 7,1 3,8
Bd 3 11 MCS 46,6 5,2 2,4
CT4 Bd 3 10 MCS 89,6 7,1 3,6
CT5 Bd 3 9 MCS 66,6 6,7 3,0
CT6 Bd 3 9 MCS 81,4 6,7 3,3
CT7 Bd 1 9 FVS 86,9 6,2 4,2 (*)
Bd 2 18 FVS 96,7 11,9 6,4 (*)
Bd 3 9 MCS 109,1 7,8 4,1
CT8 Bd 3 3 MCS 152,2 10,4 5,4
CT9 Bd 2 4 FVS 72,9 18,6 5,9 (*)
CT10 Bd 1 5 FVS 171,8 16,8 8,7 (*)

Building Bd 1 – Travessa Escadinhas da Sé, n.º 24
Building Bd 2 – Praça D. Duarte, n. º 11 e 13 (*) – mid-section
Building Bd 3 – Gaveto das Ruas Formosa, Dr. Luís Ferreira e Direita
Connection CT 1: On TW boards to improve adhesion with the coating mortar
Connection CT 2: On the boards of external TW for fixing ceramic covering elements
Connection CT 3: Between vertical boards and slats
Connection CT 4: Between vertical boards and secondary elements (baseboards, etc.) of higher thickness
Connection CT 5: Between vertical boards and secondary elements (baseboards, etc.) of lower thickness
Connection CT 6: Between vertical boards and jambs
Connection CT 7: Between vertical boards and top beams
Connection CT 8: Between TW perpendicular to each other (on vertical boards)
Connection CT 9: To fix metal plates to vertical boards, in the connection between TW and masonry walls
Connection CT 10: Between floor beams and TW beams

Beams link the TWs boards together and to the floor structure. They could be of any shape (see Figure 10).

Connections between TWs boards and top beams: (a) with a continuous groove; (b) with a discontinuous groove; (c) with lateral groove and (d) without groove.

Figure 10. Connections between TWs boards and top beams: (a) with a continuous groove; (b) with a discontinuous groove; (c) with lateral groove and (d) without groove. Image Credit: José Padrão

Certain diversity was noted in the connection between the floor structure and the vertical elements as seen in Figure 11.

Connection between the floor beams and the TWs: (a) with notch or (b) without notch.

Figure 11. Connection between the floor beams and the TWs: (a) with notch or (b) without notch. Image Credit: José Padrão

Two alternative arrangements were noted between the interior TWs and granite masonry walls as seen in Figure 12.

Connection between TW and masonry walls: (a) metallic plate; (b) constructive detail

Figure 12. Connection between TW and masonry walls: (a) metallic plate; (b) constructive detail. Image Credit: José Padrão

Table 5 depicts the geometrical characteristics of the connection plates between 12 TWs and stone masonry walls.

Table 5. Dimension of the connecting metallic plates, between TW and masonry walls. Source: Padrão, et al., 2021

  No. of samples Dimensions—Average values (mm)
Length (L) Width (B) Thickness Distance between holes (x1i) Distance between holes and edge (x21)
Connecting plates 15 163 37 6 52 21

 

Experimental Characterization of Material Properties

As a fundamental step to investigate the structural behavior of TWs and of the buildings that integrate them, the constituent materials—wood, mortar, and metallic connectors were characterized.

The timber elements are the “structural skeleton” of TWs. It was found that pine (Pinus pinaster Ait.) was used extensively and occasionally chestnut (Castanea sativa Mill.) was seen. The mechanical and physical properties of the wood specimens were analyzed (see Figure 13).

Mechanical tests on wood: (a) static bending; (b) axial compression (parallel to fibers)

Figure 13. Mechanical tests on wood: (a) static bending; (b) axial compression (parallel to fibers). Image Credit: José Padrão

The values obtained from the tests for the two wood species are shown in Table 6.

Table 6. Experimental values obtained in tests on timber elements. Source: Padrão, et al., 2021

Properties Building 1 Building 2 Building 3
Average value COV Average value COV Average value COV
Compression parallel to fibres
  Species: Pine wood (Pp)
    Number of samples tested 22 25   34
    Water content, H (%) 11,99 6,1% 9,00 3,0%   11,13 1,7%
    Ultimate stress, fc,0 (N/mm2) 62 7,8% 47 9,4%   40 8,9%
    Reference density, ρ12 (kg/m3) 665 7,9% 572 4,3%   565 6,9%
  Species: Chestnut (Cs)
    Number of samples tested       25
    Water content, H (%)           9,58 1,9%
    Ultimate stress, fc,0 (N/mm2)           46 12,8%
    Reference density, ρ12 (kg/m3)           572 8,7%
Static bending
  Species: Pine wood (Pp)
    Number of samples tested 10 10   17
    Ultimate stress, fm (N/mm2) 141 8,9% 123 13,1%   94 14,9%
    Flexural Young modulus, Em,0 (N/mm2) 10,926 9,0% 8995 15,6%   4478 8,5%
    Reference density, ρ12 (kg/m3) 634 4,1% 647 6,4%   565 6,9%
  Species: Chestnut (Cs)
    Number of samples tested          13
    Ultimate stress, fm (N/mm2)          123 14,9%
    Flexural Young modulus, Em,0 (N/mm2)           9257 12,9%
    Reference density, ρ12 (kg/m3)           572 8,7%
Hardness (Chalais-Meudon Method)
  Species: Pine wood (Pp)
    Number of samples tested 10 15   17
    Hardness 4,3 29,6%   2,6 20,4%   4,4 28,7%
  Species: Chestnut (Cs)
    Number of samples tested           19
    Hardness           2,5 31,8%
 COV: Coefficient of variation            

 

Mortar is a secondary element in TWs with filling and coating purposes, along with protecting the timber structure. Characterization of these elements was carried out. Figure 14 illustrates the granulometric curves of mortars.

Granulometric curves of the mortar samples belonging to (a) Building 1 and (b) Building 2.

Figure 14. Granulometric curves of the mortar samples belonging to (a) Building 1 and (b) Building 2. Image Credit: José Padrão

SEM/ EDS analysis was carried out and Figure 15 illustrates the results of two samples. It was seen that the filling material was harder and was difficult to smash with the fingers.

Type spectra obtained by SEM / EDS analysis in mortar samples (a) without calcium and (b) with calcium.

Figure 15. Type spectra obtained by SEM / EDS analysis in mortar samples (a) without calcium and (b) with calcium. Image Credit: José Padrão

Metallic connectors found in TWs play a significant role. They connect the various elements of the TWs.

Two mechanical tests (tension and Vickers microhardness) were performed on the samples removed from the TWs. Table 7 lists the observations of the tensile tests on the metal connectors.

Table 7. Results obtained in the tensile test of metallic connectors. Source: Padrão, et al., 2021

Sample Fmax [kN] Umax [mm] fmax [N/mm2]
Nails / Dowels      
5.1 8,63 0,31 313,85
5.2 15,87 10,86 387,57
5.3 8,61 6,56 337,57
5.4 23,07 15,80 339,02
5.5 5,68 11,96 354,86
5.6 28,24 10,63 464,50
5.7 12,67 1,29 335,42
1.1 8,69 1,90 365,85
1.2 16,46 4,06 351,18
1.3 8,53 9,43 333,47
1.4 11,37 9,50 389,78
1.5 14,37 8,26 362,23
1.6 9,98 7,03 348,80
1.7 9,43 5,66 348,67
Average value     359,48
COV (%)     10,16%
Metallic plates      
1 25,73 13,96 382,90
2 23,05 3,77 374,86
3 24,46 11,40 331,75
4 19,14 8,96 322,23
5 79,92 12,40 467,35
6 33,96 8,00 393,05
7 51,54 9,56 526,18
8 18,71 3,66 359,72
9 41,72 12,76 447,81
10 24,07 11,71 383,53
Average value     398,94
COV (%)     15,92%

COV Coefficient of variation
In the nomenclature of the samples of metal plates, the first index refers to the building identification and the second index refers to the number of the sample

Figure 16 shows the stress-displacement plots for all the samples tested.

Tensile tests: (a) nails’ samples before preparation, (b) stress-displacement results of nails’ tests and (c) metallic plate sample after preparation, (d) stress-displacement results of metallic plates’ tests.

Figure 16. Tensile tests: (a) nails’ samples before preparation, (b) stress-displacement results of nails’ tests and (c) metallic plate sample after preparation, (d) stress-displacement results of metallic plates’ tests. Image Credit: José Padrão

The Vickers microhardness test was carried out and the observations are listed in Table 8.

Table 8. Results obtained from the Vickers microhardness test (HV 10). Source: Padrão, et al., 2021

HV 10 Samples (average values) Global
average
Standard
deviation
COV
(%)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Without inclusions 161 160 145 124 169 131 158 150 16 10,43
With inclusions 168 175 132 137 179 139 169 157 18 11,75

 

Microstructural analysis carried out depicted the presence of inclusions (see Figure 17). Also, the presence of two phases in the manufacturing process—ferrite and perlite—was observed.

Microstructural analysis (a) sample preparation and (b) sample surface (longitudinal direction)

Figure 17. Microstructural analysis (a) sample preparation and (b) sample surface (longitudinal direction). Image Credit: José Padrão

Discussion

Portugal had numerous tabique walls (TWs) which disappeared gradually. This article inspected 11 buildings representing the construction systems characteristic of the Viseu region.

The study created TW typologies and analyzed particular characteristics. Further investigation on the constituent elements and materials revealed much vital information like the timber elements are made of pine.

The characterization tests revealed that the mortar had an extensive granulometric curve and that it was made up of silty sand. The metallic connectors showed great geometric variability depending on the place applied. Tests revealed that they were constituted by a forged steel metallic alloy. 

Conclusion

The investigation results on TWs—geometric data, construction details, and experimental results—are crucial information for professionals and researchers in the field of intervention/ rehabilitation of old buildings. These observations could enhance the understanding of this construction system found in Portugal so that the TWs do not lose their uniqueness during rehabilitation.

Journal Reference:

Padrão, J., Guedes, J., Pinto, J., Arêde, A. (2021) Tabique walls, a light timber structure – constructive details and material characterization. Architecture, Structures and Construction, 51. Available online: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s44150-021-00010-z#citeas

References and Further Reading

Amorim, M., et al. (2018) Experimental assessment of in-plane mechanical behavior of tabique walls. International Journal of Architectural Heritage, 12(4), pp. 516–532. doi.org/10.1080/15583058.2018.1442514.

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Skyla Baily

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Skyla Baily

Skyla graduated from the University of Manchester with a BSocSc Hons in Social Anthropology. During her studies, Skyla worked as a research assistant, collaborating with a team of academics, and won a social engagement prize for her dissertation. With prior experience in writing and editing, Skyla joined the editorial team at AZoNetwork in the year after her graduation. Outside of work, Skyla’s interests include snowboarding, in which she used to compete internationally, and spending time discovering the bars, restaurants and activities Manchester has to offer!

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