Video feature: Class on German thin-shell structures yields exhibition

July 15, 2013 noon
German Thin Shells index

Video stills courtesy of Teresa Riordan

Sigrid Adriaenssens and Branko Glišić, assistant professors of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University, co-taught a course on German thin-shell structures in the fall of 2012 that has resulted in the exhibition "Evolution of German Shells: Efficiency in Form."

This video provides an overview of the undergraduate course and the exhibition that it produced. The exhibition is on display from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday through April in the Friend Center Engineering Library.

The course, "A Social and Multi-dimensional Exploration of Structures," included a weeklong field visit to Germany, where students visited landmark shell structures and met with architects and engineers involved in thin-shell construction. Germany was the birthplace of modern shell architecture in the 1920s, and it is where shell engineering is still the most advanced in the 21st century.

"In engineering, students usually don't go on field trips, but in other disciplines like art and architecture, students are encouraged to go and see the works of Monet or Le Corbusier," Adriaenssens said.

Both Adriaenssens and Glišić consider the field trip to have been a cornerstone of the class.

"The idea of this class was really to expose them to all these real-life settings," Glišić said.

Adriaenssens said that another key goal of the Germany trip was to meet with the engineers and architects who designed many of the buildings they visited.

"Actually going to an office and seeing what engineers do in a day was very revealing for our students," she said.

The original shell structures, inspired by forms found in nature such as eggshells, were made of concrete. However, today engineers and architects employ other materials such as wood and plastic or steel and glass.

After their trip, the students created models of the structures they studied using different techniques. Those models now form the exhibition in the Friend Center.

The students also created short documentaries about five different structures: Balz House, Grötzingen Theater, Leipzig Markthalle, Mannheim Multihalle and the Museum of Hamburg History.