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t the outset of thin shell
roof construction in the
United St a t e s, it seemed
that domes would be the
o rder of the day for decora t i ve ap-
plication and barrels for utilitari a n
b u i l d i n g s. Re c e n t l y, howe ve r, a re l a-
tive newcomer has made strong in-
roads in these mark e t s. This up-
and-coming thin shell roof type is
the hyperbolic paraboloid.
As tongue-twisting as the name
i s, and as complex as the shape ap-
pears to be, the h/p offers many ar-
c h i t e c t u ral and economic adva n-
tages over more conventional ro o f
t y p e s.
It’s easy to appreciate the visual
impact that the h/p has upon
p a s s e r s - by. In sales buildings for
s t rongly competitive retail busi-
n e s s e s — d e p a rtment store s, re s t a u-
ra n t s, gas stations—its use catches
the eyes of pro s p e c t i ve customers
and spells out the modernity of the
establishment it ro o f s. The number
of shapes that this versatile roof can
assume lends it added value since
each application can easily be made
d i s t i n c t i ve. Also, it is possible to use
the undulations of the roof line to
d i rect attention to pre d e t e rm i n e d
a re a s, for example, display window s
or entra n c e s. In terms of appear-
a n c e, then, the h/p offers numero u s
and important adva n t a g e s.
A rc h i t e c t u ral possibilities alone,
h owe ve r, would never guara n t e e
m o re than occasional usage of the
h / p. The growing popularity of this
roof is rooted in a seemingly contra-
d i c t o ry chara c t e ristic of its shape.
Although the h/p is curved in two
d i re c t i o n s, it is composed entirely of
s t raight lines! The accompanying
d rawings illustrate how this phe-
nomenon is possible. In t e re s t i n g
but of what va l u e, you say? This
c h a ra c t e ristic of the h/p spells out-
standing savings in both constru c-
tion materials and time, as well as
e n g i n e e ring man hours.
Imagine being able to roof an are a
of 200 square feet using a single col-
umn and a concrete slab only 1
inches thick! This is the economy
typical of the h/p. All thin shell ro o f s
d e ri ve their strength through shape
rather than mass. Great cantileve r s
and spans are possible with the h/p
by reason of its doubly curve d
s h a p e. Because of this double cur-
va t u re, h/p roofs are exc e p t i o n a l l y
stiff, despite their thin cro s s - s e c-
tion, and they experience no bend-
ing. They are literally braced in two
d i re c t i o n s. This renders them much
better equipped to handle unequal
loading, whether dead loads, such
as equipment hung from the ceil-
ing, or live loads, for example, wind,
rain or snow. It is also thought that
the h/p will be especially useful in
a reas subject to eart h q u a k e s.
W h e reas ord i n a ry roofs re q u i re con-
s i d e rable bulk and weight in con-
s t ruction materials to compensate
for stre s s e s, the h/p provides its ow n
built-in bracing and can, there f o re,
make use of lightweight concre t e
and an extremely thin shell.
In foreign countri e s, where con-
s t ruction materials costs are re l a-
t i vely high when compared with
w o rk e r s’ salari e s, this saving in con-
c rete alone is important enough to
w a r rant optimism. With such differ-
ent economic conditions in the
United St a t e s, it is not significant
enough, by itself, to assure adop-
tion. It is by nature of the stra i g h t
line composition chara c t e ristic of
the h/p that the economies most
telling in this country are achieve d .
A major advantage of the h/p is
the design simplicity which it offers.
Because forces in thin shell roofs act
in three dimensions, rather than in
just two as in conventional post and
lintel construction, their design is
usually complex and labori o u s.
Howe ve r, the h/p can be analyze d
by simple statics; it is the only thre e -
dimensional shape of which this is
t ru e. This means it is much easier to
understand its stru c t u ral action and
to pre p a re plans.
The foregoing advantage is more
The hyper bolic
par aboloid
new thin shell roof type that promises great things.
i m p o rtant than it might appear to
be at first glance. It was more than
building code and economic differ-
ences that provided such a favo r-
able climate for thin shell constru c-
tion in Eu rope and Me x i c o. In the
United States the professions of ar-
c h i t e c t u re and engineering have for
many years been sharply separa t e d
e n t i t i e s. Proper selection of a thin
shell roof shape, that is one that will
not only be arc h i t e c t u rally pleasing
but will also do its job well and at a
l ow cost, re q u i res a compre h e n s i ve
understanding of the engineeri n g
aspects of its design.
Un f o rt u n a t e l y, the pre s c ri b e d
c u r riculums in our arc h i t e c t u ra l
colleges do not provide extensive
e n g i n e e ring training in conve n t i o n-
al construction, let alone thin shell
roof design. Eu ropean colleges aim
at turning out graduate arc h i t e c t -
engineers or engineer- a rc h i t e c t s, as
the case may be. Si g n i f i c a n t l y, the
famous pioneers in thin shell
w o rk — Felix Candela of Me x i c o, Ed-
u a rdo To r roja of Spain, Pier Lu i g i
Ne rvi of It a l y — a re equally as we l l -
k n own for their engineeri n g
p rowess as for their arc h i t e c t u ral ge-
n i u s. In all fairn e s s, it must be added
that in the last few years there has
been an encouraging increase in
A m e rican architects who also have
e n g i n e e ring degre e s, and in com-
bined arc h i t e c t u ra l - e n g i n e e ri n g
f i rm s. Another encouraging factor
is that the design simplicity of the
h/p makes it a much less form i d a b l e
shape than other thin shell ro o f
t y p e s.
Another important plus offere d
by the h/p is re l a t i ve constru c t i o n
s i m p l i c i t y. Thanks to its straight line
c h a ra c t e ristic, forms for the h/p can
be built of straight lumber. Fo rm s
a re usually the principal single fac-
tor in thin shell construction costs,
so this bolsters the competitive po-
sition of the h/p in a vital are a .
Even at this early stage, the h/p
has seve ral times illustrated its abil-
ity to compete successfully with
c o n ventional construction. The
most striking example of this to date
has been the Argentine Water Re s e r-
vo i r, Kansas City, Ka n s a s. Four alter-
nate designs we re put out for bids—
p re - s t ressed long-span channel
s l a b s, pre-cast short-span channels,
flat slab and h/p. The h/p bid was
The use of t hi n-shel l const ruct i on for
t he roof of St . Edmunds Epi scopal
Church i n El m Grove, Wi sconsi n, was
a maj or fact or i n hol di ng down t he
t ot al cost of t hi s 4,000-square foot
st ruct ure (i ncl udi ng i nt eri or
furni shi ngs) t o $92,000.
l ower than the closest contender by
m o re than $20,000.
Four forms we re built to cast the
52 h/p shells re q u i red for the re s e r-
voir roof. These forms we re in two
p a rts to accommodate the centra l
column for the 46-foot square um-
b rella-shaped shells. After two days
of steam curing (outside tempera-
t u res sank as low as 0 degrees F.) the
d o l l y-mounted forms we re simply
l owe red by winches and rolled to
the position for the next h/p. To t a l
cost for the forms amounted to less
than 30 cents per square foot. East-
mount Co n s t ruction Co m p a n y, the
g e n e ral contractor on this job, has
stated that “the whole thing came
off without a hitch” and that they
hope to land other h/p jobs.
Another project involving a num-
ber of h/p shells is at the Gre a t
So u t h west In d u s t rial Di s t rict near
Da l l a s, Te x a s. One of the industri a l
The st rai ght l i ne composi t i on of t he h/ p can be readi l y seen i n t hese drawi ngs.
(A st rai ght -edge wi l l prove t he poi nt !) A commonl y used h/ p shel l i s t he
umbrel l a-shaped form shown at t he t op. Bel ow i s one of t he many vari at i ons
possi bl e. Thi s vari ant i s val uabl e when a consi derabl e cant i l ever i s requi red, e.g.,
i n a park shel t er or a band shel l .
Here i s anot her of t he al most
unl i mi t ed vari at i ons of t he hyperbol i c
parabol oi d. The roof of t hi s rest aurant
i s composed of 30-foot di amet er
cones mount ed on sl ender col umns.
Not e t hat t he formwork and shori ng
at t he l eft ri des on cast ers.
buildings in this development has
32,000 square feet of h/p shells. It
has been figured that the roof cost
under $1.00 per square foot includ-
ing drainage facilities; this is 10 to 15
p e rcent less than the closest com-
p e t i t o r.
We will inevitably see greater use
of this novel roof as the design of
f re e - f o rm h/p thin shells becomes
f u rther simplified, and as arc h i t e c t s
g row increasingly familiar with their
potential on a practical as well as an
aesthetic basis. Co n t ractors will be
able to use forms fabricated for pre-
vious jobs to lower costs even more.
Pre s t ressing of edge beams can be
expected to increase spans. Co n-
s t ruction details and pro c e d u re s
will be perfected to expedite opera-
tions and lower costs; for example,
on the Argentine Re s e rvoir job, the
c o n t ractor greatly speeded mov i n g
f o rms by simply installing larg e r
casters on the dollies.
St e p - by- s t e p, job-by- j o b, ow n e r s,
a rc h i t e c t s, engineers and contra c-
tors are gaining confidence in the
h/p as it demonstrates its beauty,
versatility and pra c t i c a l i t y. So don’t
be surprised if you see butterf l y- l i k e
wings of concrete hove ring over a
new building in your town soon. It
will only signify that the h/p is com-
ing into its own in your area.
A basi c h/ p i s t he saddl e-shaped fi gure bel ow. Above, a vari at i on consi st i ng of
four si mi l ar h/ p shel l s j oi ned t o provi de ut most col umn-free fl oor area.
P U B L I C AT I O N# C 5 9 0 1 0 1
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