Abstract This paper deals with the formulation, calibration, and validation of the Lattice Discrete Particle Model (LDPM) suitable for the simulation of the failure behavior of concrete. LDPM simulates concrete at the meso-scale considered to be the length scale of coarse aggregate pieces. LDPM is formulated in the framework of discrete models for which the unknown displacement field is not continuous but only defined at a finite number of points representing the center of aggregate particles. Size and distribution of the particles are obtained according to the actual aggregate size distribution of concrete. Discrete compatibility and equilibrium equations are used to formulate the governing equations of the LDPM computational framework. Particle contact behavior represents the mechanical interaction among adjacent aggregate particles through the embedding mortar. Such interaction is governed by meso-scale constitutive equations simulating meso-scale tensile fracturing with strain-softening, cohesive and frictional shearing, and nonlinear compressive behavior with strain-hardening. The present, Part I, of this two-part study deals with model formulation leaving model calibration and validation to the subsequent Part II.