Welcome to the Evolution of German Shells: Efficiency in Form

Thin Shell structures are intriguing - they seem to float in space and contradict the laws of gravity. They materialize the ideals of engineering by achievening lightness and efficiency through resistance of form.

Many of today's engineers are not able - or should we say willing - to design these curved systems. Historic domes and shells are too easily seen as risks instead of opportunities. Under the guise of 'safety', these structures are destroyed and replaced by common beam-column systems. This is regrettable: their great historic and aesthetic value is lost forever. In the 1920's, German engineers were designing and building the first reinforced concrete shell with geometric shapes. Today, this German legacy continues with filigree steel and glass lattice shells. A better understanding and assessment of these shells' structural behavior holds the key to the development of implicit design knowledge as well as their conservation and future. It is not only interest in historic preservation that leads to these thoughts, but also that shells are highly efficient structures and should continue to be constructed today.

This exhibition "Forms of German Shells", is located at the Friend Center Library, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and it was conceived in the spirit of three preceding projects, The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy, Félix Candela: Engineer, Builder, Structual Artist, and Fazlur Khan: Structural Artist of Urban Building Forms. The 3D scale models of significant 20th and 21st century German shells displayed in this exhibition were made by students in the CEE463: A Social and Multi-dimensional Exploration of Structures class in Fall 2012. Through the juxtaposition of models , photographs,and explanatory panels that illustrate the relationship between forces and form, visitors to exhibition experience the process of German innovative shell design and construction.

We are grateful to many others who made this course and exhibition possible. Maria Garlock, Associate Professor of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), and David Billington, Professor Emeritus of the CEE department provided invaluable consulting advice. Joe Vocaturo, CEE Lab Technician, assisted the students with the models. Alex Jordan was a valuable teaching assistant and travel planner. Razvan Ghilic-Micu and Jia Xin Chum of Rx co-lab provided creative contributions to the exhibition design. We appreciate the enthusiasm and space provided by the Engineering Librarian, Adriana Popescu, who was essential for making this exhibition a reality. And finally, we are thankful to Princeton University's 250th Anniversary Fund for Innovation in Undergraduate Education, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the PU Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education and the CEE Department for recognizing the value of such a course and exhibition as part of the structural engineering education and thus providing the necessary financial support.

Sigrid Adriaenssens and Branko Glisic
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Princeton University
January 2013