Who are the important shell designers?. And what were their contributions? . Important Engineers and Architects in Thin-shell Concrete Construction.
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And what were their contributions?
The following list focuses on designers who had substantial influence on construction in the US. Many European contributions, overlooked here, can be found in the bibliographic material provided. The contributions of the these designers will be summarized in the following slides:
Anton Tedesko: a prominent engineer with Roberts and Schaefer Company, Chicago , who promoted the Zeiss-Dywidag system in the US.
Pier Luigi Nervi: an Italian engineer/architect, justly famous for his inventive and disciplined concrete roof designs.
Felix Candela: a Mexican engineer, who created many of the liveliest and inventive designs in thin-shell concrete.
John Christiansen: A Seattle structural engineer, working for the firm of Skilling, Helle, Christiansen, and Robertson, who designed many prominent shell structures nationwide.
Eero Saarinen: A prominent architect in the modern movement, who often used shell structures in his work.
Amman and Whitney: A structural engineering firm often associated with thin-shell concrete structures.
(Excerpted from Anton Tedesko: Thin Shells and Esthetics, by David Billington. Journal of the Structural Division, 108(ST11), November 1982.
Rarely can historians attribute to one person the introduction into society of a new and widely useful engineering idea. We have no difficulty, however, in attributing to one structural engineer, Anton Tedesko, the introduction of thin-shell concrete roof structures into the United States.
Tedesko studied engineering at the Technological Institute in Vienna, graduating in 1926 with a diploma in Civil Engineering.
Tedesko began with Dyckerhoff and Widmann in 1930 just when the firm had a remarkable group of structural engineers developing thin-shell concrete roof designs. In addition to Dischinger and Finsterwalder there were Wilhelm Flügge and Hubert Rüsch. Both became world famous for their work in thin shells and concrete structures, respectively.
Based upon their experience with very large domes …, Dyckerhoff and Widmann decided to expand their operations abroad. Tedesko, because of his American experience, was sent to the United States in early 1932.
Mr. Tedesko was responsible for many landmark thin-shell concrete structures, including the Hershey Sports Arena, shown below.
"The most impressive example in this country of the thin concrete shell roof has recently been completed in Hershey, Pa. Of barrel type, only 3-1/2-in. thick (except at the edges) and supported by two-hinged concrete arches, the roof covers an area 232-ft. wide by 340-ft. long within which 7,180 bleacher seats surround a standard 85x200-ft. ice skating floor. Known as the Hershey Sports Arena, the new building is the home of the Hershey Hockey Club. It is built entirely of concrete to a design developed to achieve both monumental appearance and permanence at a reasonable cost."
Mr. Tedesko also designed a number of very large utilitarian structures, such as this 300 foot span aircraft hangar at Ellsworth AFB, Rapid City, SD.
(click here for web link to PRIDE Hangar)
From 1932-1934 Tedesko worked closely with Roberts and Schaefer in Chicago, while still an employee of Dyckerhoff and Widmann, promoting the Z-D system. After 1934 he worked full time with Roberts and Schaefer. The Hayden Planetarium was the first application on which Tedesko worked.
The first major thin shell in the United States came in 1936 with the decision by the Hershey Chocolate Company to build an ice hockey arena.
Up to 1941 Roberts and Schaefer designed numerous industrial and civic shells as long barrels, short barrels, and domes up to 1941, when the war effort changed the focus to military warehouses and hangars.
Two later thin-shell roofs (St. Louis Air Terminal and May D & F Entrance Canopy) characterize Tedesko’s method of working with well-known architects.
Billington, David P. “Anton Tedesko: Thin Shells and Esthetics.” Journal of the Structural Division (ASCE) 108 (November 1982): 2539-2554.
“Concrete Shell Roof Used on World’s Fair Building,” Engineering News-Record 112 (June 14, 1934): 775-776.
Molke, Eric C., and J. E. Kalinka. “Principles of Concrete Shell Dome Design.” Journal of the American Concrete Institute 34 (May-June 1938): 649-707.
———.“Elliptical Concrete Domes for Sewage Filters.” Engineering News-Record 123 (November 9, 1939): 59-61.
Pape, Paul F. “Thin Concrete Shell Dome for New York Planetarium.” Engineering News-Record 115 (July 25, 1935): 105-109.
“Remembered: Anton Tedesko.” Architectural Record 182 (May 1994): 19.
Stern, Eugene W. “Spiderweb Concrete in Europe,” Architectural Forum 55 (July 1931): 113-120.
Tedesko, Anton. “Shell Domes of Reinforced Concrete.” Engineering News-Record 116 (January 2,1936): 23.
———.“Large Concrete Shell Roof Covers Ice Arena.” Engineering News-Record 118 (April 8, 1937): 505-510.
———.“Tire Factory at Natchez.” Engineering News-Record 123 (October 26, 1939): 67-69.
———.“Point-Supported Dome of Thin Shell Type.” Engineering News-Record 123 (December 7, 1939): 85-86.
———.“The St. Louis Air Terminal Shells.” World Conference on Shell Structures, Proceedings, October 1-4, 1962, San Francisco.
Bibliography: Anton Tedesko, Roberts and Schaefer, Z-D System (continued)
———.“The St. Louis Air Terminal Shells.” In Proceedings of the World Conference on Shell Structures, October 1-4, 1962, San Francisco. Publication No. 1187.Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, 1964.
———.“Shells 1970—History and Outlook.” In Concrete Thin Shells. Detroit: American Concrete Institute, 1971.
———.“How Have Concrete Shell Structures Performed? An Engineer Looks Back at Years of Experience with Shells.” In Bulletin of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures, 1980.
“Thin Concrete Shells for Domes and Barrel-Vault Roofs,” Engineering News-Record 108 (April 14, 1932): 538. [537-538]
von. Dischinger der Dyckerhoff und Widmann A. G., Wiesbaden-Biebrich, “Eisenbetonschalendacher Zeiss-Dywidag Zur Uberdachung Weitgespannter Raume,” First International Congress for Concrete and Reinforced Concrete, vol. 1 (Liege: La Technique Des Travaux, 1930), 262-291.
Born in Italy in 1891, Pier Luigi Nervi graduated from the University of Bologna in 1913 with a degree in civil engineering. His interest in thin-shell construction, however, focused more on aesthetic rather than theoretical or practical issues. In fact, he believed that intuition should be considered as strongly as mathematics when making design decisions. Nervi was influenced by the ribbed and coffered domes of his homeland’s Roman and Renaissance architecture. His trademark became domed and vaulted lattices of crossed ribs, a dramatic use of structure for aesthetic ends. He patented a new type of movable staging and developed innovative methods to prefabricate and hydraulically pre-stress reinforced concrete.
Nervi’s first significant design was a 35,000-seat stadium in Florence (1930-1932), where the structure’s concrete form became a dramatic design element. In 1935, he began work on a series of military aircraft hangars where he refined his ideas for lattice concrete roof structures. The Agnelli Exhibition Hall in Turin (1948), its roof a filigree of prefabricated concrete units and glass, is a landmark in engineering comparable to Paxton’s 1851 Crystal Palace in London. He designed three athletic venues for the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, including small and large sports arenas that displayed his mastery of precast-concrete tracery. Nervi preferred to practice in Italy but did some works abroad including the UNESCO Center in Paris (with Marcel Breuer and Bernard Zehrfuss, 1953-1957) and the New York Port Authority bus terminal.
In addition to his architecture and engineering practice, Nervi owned a contracting firm. He taught technology and construction at Rome University’s architecture school from 1947 to 1961. Nervi died in Rome in 1979.
Click here to see Nervi’s Exhibition Building, Turin (1948-9)
Click here to see Nervi’s St. Mary’s Cathedral (Pietro Belluschi, Architect), San Francisco, CA (1971)
Argan, Giulio C. Pier Luigi Nervi. Milan: Il Balcone, 1955.
De Irizarry, Florita Z. Louie. Work and Life of Pier Luigi Nervi, Architect. Monticello, Ill.: Vance Bibliographies, 1984.
Huxtable, Ada L. Pier Luigi Nervi. New York: George Braziller, 1960.
Kato, Akinori, ed. Pieru Ruiji Veruvi (Pier Luigi Nervi). Translated by Ernest Priefert. Tokyo: Process Architecture; distributed in the United States by Eastview Editions, [1981?].
Nervi, Pier Luigi. Aesthetics and Technology in Building. Translated by Robert Einaudi. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965.
———. Buildings, Projects, Structures, 1953-1963. Translated by Guiseppe Nicoletti. New York: Praeger, 1963.
———. “Is Architecture Moving Towards Unchanging Forms?” In Structure in Art and Science, edited by Gyorgy Kepes. New York: George Braziller, 1965.
———. Scienz of arte del construire? (Is Building an Art or a Science?) Rome: Edizioni della Bussolo, 1945.
———. Structures(Costruire correttamente). Translated by Giuseppina and Mario Salvadori. New York: F. W. Dodge, 1956.
———. The Works of Pier Luigi Nervi. New York: F. A. Praeger, 1957.
Felix Candela was an extraordinarily creative and imaginative designer of shell structures. He lives and practiced in Mexico, but also designed some structures in the southwestern USA. He has combined an imaginative and creative visual vocabulary with the development of precise and sophisticated analytical techniques.
“Shells will not result in greater freedom in building design because it is not the so-called functional approach to the design problem which prevails but the formal or computational approach. Some of the limitations are money and the current desire of always producing something new. As for size, the practical limit is about 100 ft. Most of the difficulties are in making a structural analysis. We do not know enough about the mathematical tools to analyze these structures, and the literature does not tell us what is important, either. There is often not even enough time to analyze a structure before it has to go up. For small shells, we ordinarily do not need an exquisite solution.” (Faber p. 32)
“I have built shells for several years; I now mostly build the hyperbolic paraboloid, a very well-known shape now with very interesting properties.”(Faber pp. 33-34).
“Usually I do not make an elastic analysis of shells because I have learned that a statical method was used to design old stone arches, which were unable to take any tension. What was always needed was that the pressure line of the forces fall inside the nucleus of the arch. Then, if the span is not larger than in a stone arch, there is no need to employ any more difficult methods for analysis.” (Faber, p. 109).
Trained and employed as an architect in Madrid, where he was born in 1910, Felix Candela fled as a refugee to Mexico in 1939 after fighting on the losing side in the Spanish Civil War. Within a decade, he had established an architectural and construction practice in Mexico City with his brother Antonio, who also emigrated from Spain.
Although his first designs in his new homeland were conventional, Felix soon returned to the shell forms that had fascinated him since meeting an innovator of concrete design, Spaniard Eduardo Torroja, in 1934. The dramatic curved vault of the 1951 Cosmic Rays Laboratory at University City near Mexico City drew substantial attention to Candela, providing an opportunity for further experimentation with this fluid form. He topped a garage in Anzures with a folded-slab roof (1952). His first large-scale concrete roof, which tapered to a thickness of only 1.5 inches at the apex of the arches, covered a factory at Valejo (with Carlos Recamier, 1954). He called on paraboloid vaults for the Church of Santa Maria Miraculosa in Mexico City (with Enrique de la Mora, 1955) and umbrella shells for industrial buildings at Linda Vista (1954) and Coyoacan (1955). He covered an octagonal-plan restaurant in Xochimilco with a scallop of shell vaults (with Joãquim and Fernando Alvarex Ordoñex, 1958). Among his works outside of Mexico, one of the most interesting was a plan for a presidential palace at Havana, Cuba, in collaboration with Josep Luis Sert (a Spaniard who was dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design); unfortunately the design, finished in 1957, was never built.
Candela extended his influence by teaching at the National University of Mexico from 1953 to 1970. He lived in Chicago from 1971 to 1978, where he practiced architecture and served on the faculty of the University of Illinois, Circle Campus. He died in 1997.
Bushiazzo, Felix. Felix Candela. Buenos Aires: Instituto de Arte Americano e Investigaciones Estaticas, 1961.
Cetto, Max. Modern Architecture in Mexico. New York: Praeger, 1961.
Candela, Felix “New Architecture.” In Maillart Papers, edited by David P. Billington, Robert Mark, and John F. Abel. Princeton, N.J.: Publ. Department of Civil Engineering, Princeton University, 1973.
———. “Shell Construction in Mexico.” In Proceedings of the World Conference on Shell Structures, October 1-4, 1962, San Francisco. Publication No. 1187.Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, 1964.
———. “Structural Applications of Hyperbolic Paraboloidal Shells.” Journal of the American Concrete Institute 26 (1955): 397-415.
Cervera, Jaime, et al. “Felix Candela, in Memoriam.” Arquitectura Viva 58 (January-February 1998): 72-77, 116.
Faber, Colin. Candela, The Shell Builder. New York: Reinhold, 1963.
Miwa, Naomi, ed. Felix Candela. Tokyo: TOTO Shuppan, [1995?].
Jack Christiansen became interested in thin-shell construction when he attended the architectural engineering program at the University of Illinois. After receiving his B.S. there in 1949, he obtained a masters degree in Civil Engineering from Northwestern University. He worked in various engineering firms until 1962, when he joined a company in Seattle where he rose to become a senior partner. He retired from the firm, then known as Skilling, Helle, Christiansen, and Robertson, in 1983, and has worked as a consultant since that time. In honor of his achievements, he has been elected a Fellow of the American Concrete Institute and the American Society of Civil Engineers. He is a former chair of the ASCE/ACI Joint Committee on Concrete Shells.
Among his most notable projects were an aircraft hangar at Larson Air Force Base, Washington, with eight bays to hold B-52s; the King County Airport Hanger at Boeing Field in Seattle; the Kingdome, also in Seattle (demolished); the Sundome in Yakima, Washington; and the Saudi Royal Naval Stadium in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. The Church of the Good Shepherd in Bellevue, Washington, exemplifies the adaptability of concrete construction: this double-shell cantilevered sanctuary has been converted into a residence. One of his most recent projects was the design of the Athletic Field Grandstand on Bainbridge Island, Washington, where he resides.
Thin-shell structures, he asserts, "will last forever with reasonable care." He cites lack of maintenance as a problem that has unreasonably cast a cloud on thin-shell construction; the saga of the Kingdome in Seattle is a case in point.
Note: you can download a video of the March 27, 2000 implosion at
or get there by clicking here
The King County Stadium (Kingdome)
He believes that architects are too quick to adopt, and then discard, efficient structural designs such as thin shells. That is due, in part, to the fickleness of aesthetic trends. It also reflects changes in construction practices. Thin shells are most economical to produce under a competitive bidding process. Today, buildings are often erected fast-track and design-build, with the project overseen by a construction manager. This is effective for steel construction. Thin-shell methods, however, do not adapt well to this approach. Computer-aided design programs, now ubiquitous in the industry, are also more prepared to address steel rather than thin-shell concrete.
Bibliography: John Christiansen
Christiansen, John V. “Shell Construction for the Church of the Good Shepherd.” In Proceedings of the World Conference on Shell Structures, October 1-4, 1962, San Francisco. Publication No. 1187.Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, 1964.
The son of legendary architect Eliel Saarinen, Eero was born in Finland in 1910. The family moved to the United States in 1923. Eero was educated at Yale University and traveled extensively in Europe. In 1937, he moved to Michigan to form an architectural partnership with his father, who was involved with the Cranbrook School near Detroit. He launched his own firm after his father’s death in 1950.
Eero’s first significant independent commission was the Jefferson Memorial, better known as the Saint Louis Arch, which he won in 1948. Eero became interested in the sculptural possibilities of thin-shell concrete roofs; one of his first large-scale experiments with this form was Kresge Auditorium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1955). This was followed three years later by the swoop-roofed hockey rink for his alma mater in New Haven, Connecticut. He transformed concrete into a visual metaphor for flight with the shell roofs of the TWA Terminal at Idlewild (today Kennedy) Airport in New York (1956-1962) and the Dulles Airport Terminal near Washington, D.C. (1964). Construction of the latter began after Eero died of a brain tumor in 1961 at only fifty-one years of age.
Doumato, Lamia. The Work of Eero Saarinen: A Selected Bibliography. Monticello, Ill.: Vance Bibliographies, 1980.
Iglesia, Rafael. Eero Saarinen. Buenos Aires: Instituto de Arte Americano e Investigaciones Estaticas, 1966.
Kuhner, Robert A. Eero Saarinen, His Life and Work. Monticello, Ill.: Council of Planning Librarians, 1975.
Saarinen, Eero. Eero Saarinen. New York: Simon, 1971.
———. Eero Saarinen on His Work; A Selection of Buildings Dating from 1947 to 1964 with Statements by the Architect. Edited by Aline Saarinen. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968.
Saarinen, Eero, and Nobuo Hozumi. TWA Terminal Building, Kennedy Airport, New York, 1956-62: Dulles International Airport (Washington D.C.), Chantilly, Virginia, 1958-62. Edited and photographed by Yuko Futagawa. Tokyo: A. D. A. EDITA Tokyo, 1973.
Stoller, Ezra. The TWA Terminal. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, [1999?].
Temko, Allan. Eero Saarinen. New York: George Braziller, 1962.
Ammann and Whitney, a consulting engineer practice based in New York, was formed in 1946 by Othmar H. Ammann and Charles S. Whitney. Ammann came to the United States from Switzerland, where he was born in 1879. After graduating from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich with a degree in civil engineering in 1902, he worked on various projects in Europe and, starting in 1904, in the United States, specializing in bridge design. His son Werner, born in Pennsylvania in 1906, followed him into the field, earning a civil engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in 1928. Werner gained experience with the McClintic-Marshall Company in Chicago and the Bethlehem Steel Company, Pennsylvania, before serving with the Navy’s Civil Engineering Corps during World War II. In 1946 he joined Ammann and Whitney as a assistant engineer, becoming a partner three years later. He oversaw construction of a number of concrete designs including the American Airlines Hangar in Chicago, and was the supervising designer of the Pittsburgh Civic Auditorium roof structure.
Charles Whitney worked for Ammann during summer breaks from the engineering program at Cornell University. After graduating in 1915, Whitney worked on projects in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles, before settling in Wisconsin. In 1924, he became a principal of the Milwaukee engineering firm Hool, Johnson and Whitney. He retained this affiliation and continued to live in Milwaukee after becoming a partner with Ammann in 1946. An expert in reinforced-concrete design, Whitney contributed to the book Concrete Designer’s Manual and received a number of awards for his work in this area.
The combined experience of Ammann and Whitney propelled their firm to prominence in the United States and around the world. Their skills are exemplified by the University of Illinois Assembly Hall in Urbana (1963), done in collaboration with the architectural firm Harrison and Abramovitz. The folded-plate reinforced concrete dome, spanning 400 feet, tapers to a thickness of only 3.5 inches.
Amman, Othmar. “Brobdingnagian Bridges.” In Smithsonian Institution, Board of Regents. Annual Report. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1931.
Hool, George A. Concrete Designers’ Manual. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1921.
———. Concrete Designers’ Manual, Tables and Diagrams for the Design of Reinforced Concrete Structures. 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1926.
Rastorfer, Darl. Six Bridges: The Legacy of Othmar H. Ammann. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, .
Whitney, Charles S. Bridges; A Study in their Art. New York: W. E. Rudge, 1929.
———. “Plastic Theory of Reinforced Concrete Design.” Transactions of the American Society of Engineers 107 (1942): 251.
Whitney, Charles S., and E. Cohen. “Guide for Ultimate Strength Design of Reinforced Concrete.” Proceedings of the American Concrete Institute 53 (1956): 455.
Billington describes three prominent ‘national schools’ of thin-shell concrete construction. Each tradition encompasses several decades and especially skilled designers, but the types of buildings that each school created are quite different in character. The three schools that Billington descirbes are
A German school pioneered by Dyckerhoff and Widman, and carried forward, particularly in the US, but Anton Tedesko. The characteristics of the German School are the reliance on forms amenable to precise mathematical treatment, or characterization by mathematical formulas: solids of revolution or of translation such as domes and barrel vaults. There is also a reliance on large ribs for stiffening the shell. The features of this school are visible in the works of Anton Tedesko, such as Hersheypark Arena or the Arch Hangar.
The Italian school was exemplified by the work of Pier Luigi Nervi, who borrowed ancient Roman forms, such as the arch, vault, and dome, and re-articulated them in reinforced concrete and ferrocement. His approach to structural design was much more intuitive than mathematical, and the forms he used were much less constrained than those of the German school.
The Spanish school represents the tradition of Gaudí, who worked primarily in masonry, but was carried forward by Torroja, and in North America, by Felix Candela. This school is primarily motivated by aesthetics, and tends to use doubly curved forms, such as the hyperbolic paraboloid, in place of ribs. Candela in particular used ingenious, but approximate mathematical calculations to achieve a daring thinness for his shell forms.
Billington, David P. The Tower and the Bridge: The New Art of Structural Engineering. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.
Dodge, Edward N., ed. Who’s Who in Engineering. 8th ed. New York and West Palm Beach, Fla.: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1959.
———. Who’s Who in Engineering. 9th ed. New York and West Palm Beach, Fla.: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1964.
Encyclopedia of Modern Architecture. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1964.
Jencks, Charles. Modern Movements in Architecture. 2d ed. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1985.
Lampugnani, Vittorio M., ed. Encyclopedia of 20th –Century Architecture. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1986.
Maddex, Diane, ed. Master Builders: A Guide to Famous American Architects. Washington, D.C.: Preservation Press, 1985.
Petroski, Henry. Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.
Richards, J. M., ed. Who’s Who in Architecture from 1400 to the Present. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977.3
Scully, Vincent, Jr. Modern Architecture: The Architecture of Democracy. New York: George Braziller, 1961.
Twentieth Century Engineering. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1964.
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