Register Now


Lost Password

Lost your password? Please enter your email address. You will receive a link and will create a new password via email.


Register Now

Register on The Constructor to ask questions, answer other questions, to add questions and answers to your favorites and refer them later, track latest answers, receive email alerts, build your profile and connect with other civil engineers.

Change in geometry of a structure or structural component under compression – resulting in loss of ability to resist loading is defined as instability. Instability can lead to catastrophic failure that must be accounted in design. Instability is a strength-related limit state.

structural stabilty

Why did we define instability instead of stability?

Stability is not easy to define.

  • Every structure is in equilibrium – static or dynamic. If it is not in equilibrium, the body will be in motion or a mechanism.
  • A mechanism cannot resist loads and is of no use to the civil engineer.
  • Stability qualifies the state of equilibrium of a structure. Whether it is in stable or unstable equilibrium.
  • Structure is in stable equilibrium when small perturbations do not cause large movements like a mechanism. Structure vibrates about it equilibrium position.
  • Structure is in unstable equilibrium when small perturbations produce large movements – and the structure never returns to its original equilibrium position.
  • Structure is in neutral equilibrium when we cant decide whether it is in stable or unstable equilibrium. Small perturbation cause large movements – but the structure can be brought back to its original equilibrium position with no work.
  • Thus, stability talks about the equilibrium state of the structure.
  • The definition of stability had nothing to do with a change in the geometry of the structure under compression – seems strange!



  • Change in geometry of structure under compression – that results in its ability to resist loads – called instability.
  • Not true – this is called buckling.
  • Buckling is a phenomenon that can occur for structures under compressive loads.
    • The structure deforms and is in stable equilibrium in state-1.
    • As the load increases, the structure suddenly changes to deformation state-2 at some critical load Pcr.
    • The structure buckles from state-1 to state-2, where state-2 is orthogonal (has nothing to do, or independent) with state-1.
  • What has buckling to do with stability?
    • The question is – Is the equilibrium in state-2 stable or unstable?
    • Usually, state-2 after buckling is either neutral or unstable equilibrium



Structure subjected to compressive forces can undergo:

  1. Buckling – bifurcation of equilibrium from deformation state-1 to state-2.
    • Bifurcation buckling occurs for columns, beams, and symmetric frames under gravity loads only
  2. Failure due to instability of equilibrium state-1 due to large deformations or material inelasticity
    • Elastic instability occurs for beam-columns, and frames subjected to gravity and lateral loads.
    • Inelastic instability can occur for all members and the frame.


  • Member or structure subjected to loads. As the load is increased, it reaches a critical value where:
    • The deformation changes suddenly from state-1 to state-2.
    • And, the equilibrium load-deformation path bifurcates.
  • Critical buckling load when the load-deformation path bifurcates
    • Primary load-deformation path before buckling
    • Secondary load-deformation path post buckling
    • Is the post-buckling path stable or unstable?


  • Post-buckling load-deform. paths are symmetric about load axis.
    • If the load capacity increases after buckling then stable symmetric bifurcation.
    • If the load capacity decreases after buckling then unstable symmetric bifurcation.

structural instabilty


Post-buckling behavior that is asymmetric about load axis.

structural instabilty


  • There is no bifurcation of the load-deformation path. The deformation stays in state-1 throughout
  • The structure stiffness decreases as the loads are increased. The change is stiffness is due to large deformations and / or material inelasticity.
    • The structure stiffness decreases to zero and becomes negative.
    • The load capacity is reached when the stiffness becomes zero.
    • Neutral equilibrium when stiffness becomes zero and unstable equilibrium when stiffness is negative.
    • Structural stability failure – when stiffness becomes negative.
  • Failure of Beam-Columns

Beam column failure due to structural instabilty

  • Snap-Through Buckling


  • Shell Buckling failure – very sensitive to imperfections

shell buckling failure

Now ask any questions to Civil Engineers around the world.

Ask question