What I am thinking: Structural designer Jane Wernick

Jane Wernick is a British Engineer who has distinguished herself in the field of structural engineering. She has taught at Harvard University and has been the Chair of the Diversity Task Force of the Construction Industry Council, in addition to managing Ove Arup and Partner’s Los Angeles office from 1986 to 1988. In 1998 she founded Jane Werwick Associates Ltd., a superb engineering design consultancy which has worked on countless projects across the United States and Europe. I talked to Jane at the occasion of the Structured Lineages: Learning from Japanese Structural Design event, held earlier this year at MOMA. 

Sigrid Adriaenssens: You have worked with world-renowned architects, what is the value for you of working in a design team versus solo engineering?

Jane Wernick: I have only ever worked as part of a team. I very much enjoy the process of trying to work out and understand the aspirations of the client, architect and other consultants, and then trying to find structural solutions that support or even enhance those aspirations.

What objectives do you set for yourself when designing a structure? How would a trained audience recognize a structure designed by you?

I am keen to propose solutions that give delight, that are buildable and that give good value. As well as designing structures that are strong enough, stiff enough, durable etc. it is also important that, as engineers we appreciate what the structural elements will look like. For example, I think that a circular hollow section is likely to look much larger and heavier than a fabricated section with sharp corners. The triangular cross section is one of my favourites. This is what we used for the pylons of the Xstrata Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens. Because we used weathering steel (because it didn’t need to be painted with an ‘un-natural’ colour) we couldn’t use rolled sections. And a tapered triangular cross-section was the most efficient we could use. It also looked more slender than the equivalent circular section would have appeared.

South Elevation Xstrata Treetop Walkway showing the pylons
Close-up Xstrata Treetop Walkway (Image credit

You once said “structural analysis is not a precise science, but difficult statistically; it is chaotic, and it is part craft” in the context of your work with the Fiat Team. This statement might seem upsetting to engineering students. Could you elaborate on this?

I think it is liberating. It means that there isn’t just one correct answer, and we can therefore inject a bit of art into the solution. I was talking about the fact that when we design a building we try to imagine all the worst loadcases and combination of those loadcases that might occur e.g. everyone standing on one half of the building at every level. Probably the building will never see any of those actual loadcases, and even if it did, we don’t actually go back and measure the stresses and deflections that occurred at that time. So it is as if we are designing for a parallel universe. We just know that by and large, if we follow through our logic, the buildings seem to perform o.k. The Fiat car project was a bit different. We considered a particular loadcase, of an applied torsional load, which represented one wheel being on the kerb. A full-scale prototype was made of the structure that we had analysed, and that load was then applied and the deflection measured. I think this is the only time in my working life that this has happened.

Communication between architects, engineers and the general public seems to have been important in your approach to advancing design projects. For example your hand sketches, your oral presentations and interviews and your written articles show a real talent to explain how structures are working, why a particular structure is being used and how that helps the design. How did you acquire these skills and why do you think they are important? How important is structural expression in your projects?

In order for good collaboration to occur we all need to trust and respect each other. I think as engineers we show our respect by assuming that the other members of the team will be able to understand what we are proposing, and why. We need to be able to explain ourselves. So we have to learn to be very straight forward in how we explain our solutions, and to keep on trying until we have got our message across. It isn’t always easy, and we don’t always succeed. But the best projects are those where we do all understand what the other is trying to achieve, and how.

Of course I am always happy when the structure is directly visible in the finished project. I like it if the observer can work out how it works. But there are also plenty of good pieces of architecture where the structural elements are not on display. My view is that in those cases the structure is like the bone structure in our face – It influences what we look like, but it isn’t the whole story.

Jane communicates with architect Sarah Wigglesworth using drawings to describe options for the Chelsea Pavilion
Chelsea Pavilion (image credit Jane Wernick Associates)

You have practiced in the USA, France and the UK. What are the similarities and differences in working in these varying contexts?

There may be differences in the ways in which projects are procured, how much time and money clients are prepared to pay for good design, difficulties with language etc. But in the end it is always the same – the best projects have the best clients, design teams and contractors who share a common goal.

How do you situate yourself in the tradition of British Engineering? (who were your teachers and role models, what do you bring that is different?)

I was very largely influenced by the words of Ove Arup, by the wisdom and advice of an engineer called Tony Stevens at Arups who was responsible for sorting out some difficult analysis problems with the Barbican Towers and Arts Centre amongst many other projects, and by Peter Rice. I’m not particularly interested in designing the worlds tallest or largest anything. I’m more concerned by our responsibility to the built environment. I want to be involved in projects that bring delight, and ideally that tread lightly on the planet. I enjoy being part of a multi-disciplinary built environment think tank called The Edge.

From your publication “Happy Architecture” and your involvement in the “Living Architecture” project, it seems that one of your personal core objectives is to improve the quality of life of people. Can you elaborate on that hypothesis? How do you think engineers can address the human crisis in Europe (eg. refugees, attacks, etc.)?

As part of RIBA Building Futures I edited a book called ‘Building Happiness, Architecture to make you smile’. It is a collection of essays about how the way in which we design our built environment might, or might not, affect our psyche. Certainly some project do bring a smile to our faces, others just make us feel comfortable. On their own, I doubt that they can make us feel happy, but there is some research that certain ways of planning buildings and open spaces can lead to higher levels of depression etc. People feel better if they think they have some control over their lives. If in some small way the way we design our space can assist this, then so much the better. As far as global security is concerned, it would be a shame if we had to build prisons around us to keep us safe. We need more than architecture to do that. I guess it comes down to good communications, trust and respect again. And let’s not forget a shared sense of humour too, if we can.

Living Architecture, architect Nord, Structural Engineers Jane Wernick Associates

In 2015 you were made Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Why did this happen and why is this important?

I don’t really know why it happened. I guess someone put me forward, and then others supported the idea. It might be because I do other things than just straight forward engineering, such as being on the Council of the Architectural Association, and being a member of CABE’s design review panel. I was pleased that a structural engineer, who isn’t a ‘Captain of Industry’ got the award. It also gave me the opportunity to commission the design of a great hat.

What motivates you?

Collaborating with like-minded people and seeing things built.

Sigrid Adriaenssens (Princeton University), Caitlin Mueller (MIT) and Jane Wernick (Jane Wernick Associates) earlier this year at the Structured Lineages event.

What is you greatest professional achievement and why?

I think it is starting my own firm, on my own terms, and the fact that we have contributed to a great collection of projects. More recently, it is the fact that I have found another lovely firm, engineersHRW, to take us over, so that I am not responsible for it all any more.

Balancing Barn, a cantilever project by Jane Wernick Associates (image credt Jane Wernick Associates)
The ringing singing tree (image credit Jane Wernick Associates)

What is your favorite structure and why? What did you wish you had done differently?

Well, I think the treetop walkway is my favourite project. We had a brilliant team and had a lot of fun.

It’s not really sensible to wish that I was someone else, as that will never happen. So I can’t really wish I had done anything differently.

What question do you never get asked but would like to be asked? What would be the answer?

I would like to say that I am not a single-minded person. I like to try to do lots of different things – making music, making things, gardening, snorkeling etc. I couldn’t imagine only being an engineer.

What is your advice to structural engineering students wanting to be structural designers?

If you want to be a structural designer you need to be both a good analyst and someone who is interested in the end product. If you can find lots of good ways to communicate your ideas your life will be easier. But the most important thing is to find a good working environment, with people who trust, respect and like each other.


Author: Sigrid Adriaenssens

IASS 2016: Out and about in Tokyo

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Tokyo for the 2016 IASS Symposium, as one of the award recipients for the IASS design competition for an alternative New National Stadium. While I spent most of my time at the conference sessions, I still got to see many incredible structures while on a tour organized by IASS. Here are some highlights:

The Prada store by Herzog & de Meuron and Yakenaka Corporation features a lattice of H-sections that serves as both the lateral structural system and as the façade. img_0418img_0422

While on the tour, we got to see the Yoyogi Indoor Stadiums built for the 1964 Olympic Games. This was a very special visit, not because the 2020 Tokyo Olympic facilities were a major talking point at the conference, but because chief engineer Mamoru Kawaguchi was there to explain the project to us. At the time, Dr. Kawaguchi worked at Yoshikatsu Tsuboi’s firm, which designed the stadiums together with architect Kenzo Tange.

Dr. Mamoru Kawaguchi explaining the design of the Yoyogi Stadiums

These two adjacent cable roof structures (one stadium for 15000 spectators and another smaller one for 4000) continue to be icons of 20th century architectural and structural design.


Also on the tour, we visited the nearly-complete Roppongi Grand Tower, a 43-story tower by Nikken Sekkei Ltd. with a unique seismic design. Just below the Sky Lobby on the 29th floor is a “seismic isolation story” that features a complex arrangement of 161 rubber, steel, and oil dampers.

The U-shaped steel damper (above), obviously not designed to transmit any vertical loads, is supposed to deform plastically in the event of a major earthquake. Vertical loads are transmitted through the large rubber pads (green). These dampers connect to oil dampers (blue), which dissipate seismic energy as heat.

Also, the views of Tokyo were amazing.


We finished the tour at the Tokyo International Forum, a convention center by Rafael Viñoly. The atrium features semi-circular steel girders that mimic the hull of a ship.img_0492

Overall, it was a great day and a great week in Tokyo!

Author: Olek Niewiarowski

Adaptive Reuse: How can we make old buildings more sustainable?

One of the most important tasks engineers face today is the design of sustainable structures. Through form finding, use of efficient and/or local materials, and external systems, a plethora of new environmentally responsible buildings exist today. These advanced structures seem to be the answer to reducing the building sector’s staggering carbon emissions, but what about old, historic architecture? What role do these buildings play in our sustainable future?

Tearing down all structures that aren’t explicitly sustainable isn’t necessarily best for the environment, as additional energy is required for demolition as well as construction of a replacement structure. Furthermore, these buildings also hold cultural and historical relevance, acting as roots that tie us to the people and virtues who came before. Old post offices, banks, schools, office buildings, and retail locations may never find their place in history textbooks, but their vernacular styles, as well as the people and events that populated their interiors, make them worthy of preservation. Sustainable design isn’t restricted to the environment; social and cultural sustainability should also be of our concern.

In order to understand how to best include these buildings within our sustainable agenda, it is important to look at their current environmental impact compared to most infrastructure found today. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Whole Building Design Guide, “historic buildings are inherently sustainable.” Adaptive reuse of old structures not only ensures the maximum use of material lifespans but also reduces waste. These claims are corroborated by life cycle analysis (LCA) tests, demonstrating that “reusing older buildings result in immediate and lasting environmental benefits.”

Though these structures may not be as energy efficient as new high-tech ones, LCAs found that performance is not overwhelmingly compromised, as many existing buildings already have sustainable features. With the lack of significant climate control technology at the time of their construction, the form and materials of many old buildings were inherently efficient, trapping heat in the winter and releasing heat in the summer. Features include thick walls, shutters, overhangs, awnings, and high ceilings for air circulation and light admittance. Therefore, these sustainable features will be retained when rehabilitating and renovating them for contemporary use. Thus, with their waste reducing benefits, as well as their current level of performance, the best way to make old buildings sustainable is to use them.

The original Frick Laboratory at 20 Washington Street. (Image courtesy of Denise Applewhite, found on Princeton University’s website

We can see adaptive reuse in action in the renovation of 20 Washington Street on campus. With the new Frick Laboratory (2010), this former chemistry building became obsolete. However, with its central location and “iconic collegiate gothic structure” that ties it to the rest of campus, 20 Washington Street is too significant to demolish, Shirley Tilghman, president emerita of Princeton explained while she was in office. Thus, the university decided to transform the building into the new home of the Department of Economics and the university’s many international programs and services, which are currently sprinkled across campus. With the help of Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB) Architects of Toronto and engineers Thornton Tomasetti, the renovation will focus on “[striking] a delicate balance between preserving the most appealing features of this building—its stone walls, wood-beamed lobby, leaded windows, and collegiate-gothic flourishes— and transcending its limitations—a gloomy interior, mazelike corridors, and a woefully inefficient mechanical system.” Essentially, the project involves maintenance of the gothic exterior, with a reimagined interior that is light, airy, and contemporary. Primary interior spaces, such as the entryway onto Washington Road and the second-floor library, will also be preserved. The only exterior addition will the entrance onto Scudder Plaza, which serves to separate the two departments housed.

Perspectives view of Southern Atrium, at the entrance to Scudder Plaza and interior perspective views (Image courtesy of KPMB Architects)

The renovation meets LEED Gold Standards with its reuse of a historical structure, including reuse of materials such as the stone exterior and interior woodwork, use of sustainable materials in finishes, stormwater management, and energy efficient temperature, lighting, and plumbing systems. The project is admirable as an act of sustainability and preservation. From this project we can see not only the feasibility and success of adaptive reuse, which can bring together a campus, supplement present sustainable features of older buildings with new technology, and allow for the modern and historic to exist in one structure.

A couple elements of the project prompt further thinking. Architecturally, what should the visual relationship be between the historic exterior and contemporary interior? Should there be connectivity, so that one experiences both the old and the new for a fuller experience of the building and its history? The reuse of wood and stonework seems to bridge this gap to some extent, and it will be interesting to see how detectable this link is when occupying different spaces. Or perhaps the exterior and interior should be experienced separately, such that the two distinct lives of the building are easily perceived? Structurally, how were the forms for the additions and renovated interiors chosen? Could large elements, like atriums, benefit from form-finding to make them more efficient alongside external systems and material choice? How can we create a form that is both environmentally friendly as well as achieves the desired architectural experience? These are all questions we need to consider in the adaptive reuse of buildings for sustainability and preservation purposes, and upon its completion this year, it will be exciting to see 20 Washington Street’s solutions to them.

Author: Katie Kennedy ’18


The Unknown Dome of Frank Lloyd Wright, right in my hometown

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was a prominent American architect, writer and teacher. His design philosophy was based on the idea that structures should harmonize with their environment. This approach was best exemplified by Fallingwater (1935) and his many Prairie Homes.  However, he also designed numerous lesser known structures.  One of which stands in Wauwatosa, a city in Milwaukee County, WI, USA, only a few miles from my hometown.  The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church was designed and proposed in 1956, near the end of Wright’s life.  In fact, it was not constructed until 1959, after his death.

pic 1
2016 Photo of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Wauwatosa, WI.                                       Photo Credit: J. Schmidt

For the design of this thin shell dome, Wright was inspired by the Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey).  The reinforced concrete dome is unique. First, it is extremely thin for its size.  The dome has a 16.2m radius (the Hagia Sophia’s radius is 15.5m) and a height of about 4m (Hagia Sophia’s height is 15m).  However, the average thickness of the concrete shell is only 9cm whereas in the masonry Hagia Sophia dome the average thickness is 76cm.  Second, the dome rests along its perimeter on greased steel ball bearings.  Milwaukee has a wide range of seasonal temperatures and the ball bearings allow the dome to expand and contract about 2 cm of movement due to temperature variations.   Finally, the dome is detailed along its perimeter with a series of glass orbs which let light in and give the illusion that the dome is levitating above the building.  This resembles the design of the Hagia Sophia, interior pictured below, which has windows allowing streams of light to pass around the perimeter of its dome as well.

pic 4
1960 Construction photos showing dome support system. Copyright: John Underhill Ottenheimer
pic 5
2016 Photo of glass orbs detailed along perimeter of dome. Photo Credit: L. Schmidt
pic 6
2015 interior photo of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church showing light streaming in from the string of glass orbs. Photo Credit Eric M. O’Malley.
pic 7
Interior photo of Hagia Sophia dome with similar light streaming in from windows of dome’s perimeter

Besides its striking lighting effects, I would like to find out what kind and level of stresses occur in the Annunciation dome which has a thickness of only 9cm. Since the radius of the dome is 16.2m and the height is 4m, the aspect angle of the dome is 27.8⁰.  Assuming, density of reinforced concrete as 2500kg/m3, the approximate hoop and meridional stresses within the dome of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church under its own weight can be found using analytical formulae.

Hoop stress and meridional stresses are membrane stresses in the latitudinal and longitudinal directions, respectively, of the dome as shown in figure 1.   In particular, I am interested in establishing the stresses present at the top and bottom of the dome.

 In order to solve for these stresses, we need a few equations.  For a full derivation of these equations please refer to The Stone Skeleton: structural engineering of masonry architecture (Jacques Heyman).  Rather than working in terms of stresses, we will use the equations for resultant forces in the hoop and meridional directions.  At the end, we will divide by the dome thickness to solve for internal stresses.

My results show that the Annunciation dome experiences meridional compressive stresses throughout the structure.  Compression can be well taken by concrete.  Similarly, the hoop stress is compressive throughout because the dome is quite shallow.  The following table gives the values of the stress resultants and actual stresses within the dome at the crown and at the base.

Φ (⁰)











-38.3 -0.43 -38.3


Nθ = NΦ

27.9 -40.7 -0.45 -27.1 -0.45

Notice, at the crown of the dome, the hoop and meridional stresses are equal and both in compression.  The compressive stress in the meridional direction increases toward the base while the compressive stress in the circumferential (hoop) direction decreases.

These simple calculations show the efficacy of the dome; the stresses in the dome turn out to be rather low under its own weight.  Little is known about this shallow dome in Wauwatosa. Because of its efficiency and elegance, it merits more attention from curved surface enthusiasts.

Author: Kendall Schmidt


[1] Heyman, Jacques. The stone skeleton: structural engineering of masonry architecture. Cambridge University Press, 1997.



Shells for the senses: the multidisciplinary success of “Stage by the Sea”

When we speak of “aesthetics”, the first sense that comes to mind is sight – when appreciating the “aesthetics” of a structure, we often refer a structure’s beauty. But a secondary definition in Merriam-Webster reminds us that aesthetics can also be defined as “appreciative of what is pleasurable of the senses.”

In Professor Adriaenssens’s words, “a formal analysis, deprived of tactile, auditory and olfactory experiences, seems only to capture to a certain extent the esthetic intent of curved surfaces.” How might structures embody acoustics and the auditory senses? Today we examine Stage by the Sea, a small concert stage in Littlehampton, England that does just that.

Image courtesy of Flanagan Lawrence Architects.

Context-driven design

The design brief first set out by Littlehampton was for a stage and a shelter to occupy its beach and “reinvigorate the town’s gentility of the early 20th century.” The project, being publicly funded, had an extremely tight budget of £100,000.

Beach view from the shelter shell of Stage by the Sea. Image courtesy of Flanagan Lawrence Architects.

There were, of course, additional implied constraints due to the setting of the project. Situated on the beach, the structure had to be durable enough to withstand a harsh marine environment. The public structure also needed to be able to withstand vandalism such as arson or graffiti. Above all, the performance stage of course needed to function well, so acoustic requirements would serve as a particularly major driver in this project.

“[We brought the] notion of a traditional bandstand forward to the 21st century, where social media has democratised the production and distribution of music. No longer the preserve of elite musicians, music is now being made by anyone, and played anywhere. The Stage by the Sea is a response to this context, bringing back an old ideal, an architecture that can represent ‘sound’ and the people [who] made it.” – Flanagan Lawrence Architects and Expedition Engineering

Littlehampton’s Nautical Training Corps Brass Band playing at Stage by the Sea’s performance shell on opening day event, May 2014. Image courtesy of Flanagan Lawrence Architects.

It became clear that effective coordination of the various goals – acoustics, architectural qualities, and structure – would be the key to getting the most value and benefit from a stringent budget. Read on to see how this design team achieved these goals within budget, making such a compelling structure that eventually earned them the 2015 Award for Small Projects from the Institution of Structural Engineers.

The collaborative design process

The successful design team consisted of three firms that excelled in their respective roles: Flanagan Lawrence Architects in acoustic architecture, Expedition Engineering in unusual structural engineering, and Arup Acoustics in technical acoustic consulting. However, even three experts would not have been able to design such a successful project without effective collaboration.

“None of the design disciplines had to make major compromises; it was about working together to achieve the best possible overall outcome.” Pete Winslow, Expedition Engineering

To be more precise about the key to the team’s successful collaboration across disciplines, a single Rhino geometry model was passed between architect and engineer “over twenty times for rapid design iteration and analysis.” Since acoustics were a key driver, the team did not necessarily seek a structure that was shaped to optimally carry dead load.

Iterative structural engineering analysis (in Oasys GSA) and optimization of the shell geometries. Image courtesy of Expedition Engineering.

We were lucky to speak to Expedition Engineering associate Pete Winslow about the process of working on the project in a multi-disciplinary context. “We [structural engineers] did not prescribe a funicular, or pure compression, structural form,” Winslow says. “Rather, we developed and communicated an understanding of how much bending could be accommodated – for example, in the peak, and close to springing points – without needing to unduly thicken the shell or disproportionately increase the amount of rebar.” But likewise, “acousticians did not prescribe every internal dimension. Rather, they put forward key ratios, such as height/width, or shell peak cantilever distance / depth of stage.

Concept sketches and acoustic diagram. Image courtesy of Expedition Engineering and Flanagan Lawrence Architects.

“One of the most interesting things about the project is that, in my view, none of the design disciplines had to make major compromises,” Winslow says. “Nobody was saying, ‘every aspect of the form must be like this’ to the detriment of other disciplines. It was about communicating and understanding the main drivers for from each discipline.”

Sustainability in the long term

A final driver guiding the design decisions and compromises was the structure’s durability. “Whilst conventional thinking says that reducing the absolute value of embodied carbon in a structure is desirable, once this figure is spread over the expected design life / life to first major maintenance, the situation can significantly change. Therefore, we decided to explore all practical measures for increasing durability and life, and then within those constraints looked to minimise quantities of material and embodied carbon.”

As an example of how this approach affected the design process, Expedition Engineering pointed out that “in terms of ultimate load capacity, a thinner shell could have been possible. However, the overarching requirement for durability translated to limiting crack widths to 0.15mm.” The team thus optimized thickness around the resulting constraint – stresses within the shell.


An unconventional construction technique was used for this project: shotcrete. Unlike traditional concrete construction, shotcrete applies concrete by spraying it at high velocity onto a surface. It is often reinforced by steel bars or a mesh.

Spray concrete application of Stage by the Sea. Image courtesy of Pete Winslow, Expedition Engineering.

“When [conversations] went towards construction, the base method proposed was to build up a formwork and cast concrete in situ, since many contractors can do this,” says Winslow. “Conversations with Shotcrete Ltd, who are experts in tunneling, highlighted that they could very economically do it as a spray-concrete shell, which required no formwork required and achieved a high quality finish.”

“The judges greatly admired the way in which value for money has been delivered to great effect through the structural engineers’ creative thinking and confidence in eschewing complex construction techniques – instead putting faith in simplicity and skilled craftsmanship.” – IStructE award judge comments

Winslow admits that “getting the right shell geometry built on site to tight tolerances on a very limited budget” posed a challenge in construction. Since the project was so small, the team knew it would be uneconomical to use “clever (but expensive) high-tech things like CNC’d polystyrene, laser scanning, or computer simulated or bent rebar.” They improvised: “the thoughtful use of BIM and integrated common models allowed key information to be communicated to the small construction team, who could quickly and simply set out the doubly curved form on site using a conventional scaffold on a 1m x 1m grid. A modest survey and cross-check against the BIM model ensured the geometry was correct, prior to curving and fixing the bi-directional rebars over the top of this scaffold framework, therein defining the complete shell shape.”


BIM model setting out used for construction. Image courtesy of Flanagan Lawrence Architects.
Shell reinforcement with temporary scaffolding used for construction. Image courtesy of Flanagan Lawrence Architects.

The final result

Today you can find Stage by the Sea, two thin concrete shells oriented back-to-back, on the East Beach of Littlehampton. The larger shell faces inland and serves as the performance stage; the smaller shell sits along the East Beach promenade and faces the sea to provide shelter for passersby and buskers.


Site landscaping of Stage by the Sea. Image courtesy of Flanagan Lawrence Architects.

The impressive thinness of the shells demonstrate that formal elegance were not compromised for acoustic function: “the shells are 100mm thick reinforced concrete, increasing to 150 mm at the more highly stressed springing points, and bi-directional rebar. At the crisp leading edge, a stiffening strip is introduced with minimal increase in overall thickness; instead, additional rebar is introduced with smaller cover.”

Reinforcement details and stage cross-section. Image courtesy of Expedition Engineering.

As for acoustic function, the performance stage delivered – the violinist playing on the windy opening day could still be heard perfectly well from 50m away.

“The wave-like form follows the acoustic function beautifully.” – IStructE award judge comments

Acoustic form refinement. Image courtesy of Flanagan Lawrence Architects.

The shells are also well-loved by the community. “I particularly love the public booking system open to anyone,” Winslow says. “It very much makes it an accessible community facility.”

Sea-front shelter for local residents. Image courtesy of Flanagan Lawrence Architects.

Winslow shares a final touching story demonstrating Stage by the Sea’s place in the hearts of the people: “Over the weekend, a vandal had painted graffiti on one of the shells. It was reported to the council, but almost immediately a group of locals got some paint and painted over the graffiti to restore the shell to pristine condition!”

Visit the team: Expedition Engineering | Flanagan Lawrence Architects | Arup Acoustics

See more at Expedition Engineering’s project page.

Expedition Engineering’s close collaborations with Flanagan Lawrence in acoustic architecture continue. Check out their Soundforms project!

Any quotes not attributed to Mr. Winslow are taken from Expedition Engineering’s pamphlet about the project, which he provided for us. We thank Mr. Winslow for all of his help in making this post possible!

Author: Demi Fang ’17

What I am Thinking: Architectural Fantasies with Mister Mourão

While at the 2016 International Conference on Structures and Architecture, we had the opportunity to meet Mister Mourão, a highly creative mind who describes himself as “an architect turned illustrator with a tendency for obsessive drawing.” In this interview, he shares his beginnings in drawing, his productive workflow, and his inspiration (or lack thereof).


When, what, how and why did you start drawing?

Drawing was always one of my favourite things to do. There’s something in the effort, dedication and loneliness of the work that resonates with me.

One of my first memories is being on my parents’ living room floor drawing, so I guess I started pretty early… And for some unknown reason I was obsessed with horses. That’s basically what I drew from 4 until 18 years old. Horses!


What was your formal training and how does it relate to your work now?

I studied and worked as an architect so my lexicon is deeply rooted in the city, structures and urban environments.

Basically, I learned how to design and build through architecture, and now I can distort, exaggerate and repeat all those architectural elements that make up a building or a city and rearrange them in my drawings.


What is your process?  

First I have to confess something about myself. I (obviously) love to draw but I’m quite lazy and restless, and it’s very hard for me to focus.

In order to deal with these shortcomings, I had to design a strategy in order to do the work that is important to me.

I’ve set up a few simple and easy to follow rules to keep me where I want to be. Drawing.

This is my humble attempt to design my workflow.

  1. Simplicity
    I (mostly) use a black pen and paper.
    This way I don’t wander off looking the “right” tool or color.
    It’s just me, the pen and a sheet of paper. With nothing to decide, I just draw. It can’t get simpler that this!


  1. Silence
    As we all know too well, we live in the age of distractions… so I put my phone on airplane mode while I’m working. It’s a cheeky trick but it works!
    No calls, no pings, bing or buzz! I have enough trouble trying to focus by myself without all the notifications luring me to that rabbit hole!
    After doing this for a while, it was fun to realize that there aren’t many things that can’t wait for 4-5 hours. And no, you don’t need to reply to that Facebook comment within 2 minutes!
    Oddly enough, after creating this silence, I fill it with some nice music or podcasts.


  1. Routine
    It’s easier to get the work done if I have a fixed daily schedule, this way my brain know when it’s time to draw.
    So everyday I divide my time in big blocks and try to do the important work from 10am until 3pm. I’ll defend these 5 hours of uninterrupted work against everything! Because I know that the first hours are usually worthless and I need to keep working through it non-stop until the final hours when things starts to happen.
    To mark the end of a work day, I post a photo of the day’s progress on social media.
    This gives me the feeling that I’m accountable to be there the next day and keep going.
    How’s that for a productive use of social media?!


  1. Mistakes
    Probably the hardest thing to figure out for me was to learn to deal with mistakes.
    Being a perfectionist is a curse in disguise because it’s very easy to get lost in a endless loop of do-undo and never get to the end of a piece.
    That’s why I decide to work on a medium where I can’t erase or undo. With pen and paper, there’s no backdoor.
    Sure… I scream and kick the wall when I make a mistake but at the end I just have to carry on and finish the drawing.
    Now I cringe a bit when I look at the mistakes in my drawings, but I can see them as an important part of the process.



Where do you get your inspiration?

There’s a great quote of Chuck Close that really rings with me. “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Surely my background, the places I visit or the people I meet are important and fuel me subconsciously but I don’t really believe in getting inspiration from some other place besides the work itself. The challenges and decisions inherent to working on a piece are inspiring enough.

How do spectators respond to your drawings?

Sometimes they believe to recognise a specific part piece of the drawing from a city or building that they know.

I have a friend that swears that I drew her doorway (which I didn’t) in this drawing that I’ve loosely based in the city of Oporto, Portugal.


What is your greatest accomplishment so far and why?

I guess to be able to make a nice living from drawing is something that makes me really proud (and a bit surprised).

To make something so personal that gives me so much pleasure and getting paid for it feels like a magic trick.

Also the opportunity to work with AppleThe New Yorker & to create a 12 meters mural in my alma mater are surely among my professional highlights.

Which question would you like to be asked (and never get asked) and what would be the answer?

Do you think anyone can draw? Yes, if you really wanted it. Because grit trumps talent any day. So if you want and love to draw, you CAN draw.

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We loved meeting Mister Mourão at ICSA 2016! Here we pose with his work-in-progress: a mural at the School of Architecture of University of Minho, his alma mater. He completed the mural during the conference in 10 days! Left to right: Sigrid Adriaenssens (Form Finding Lab), Giulia Tomasello (Roma Tre University), Mister Mourão, Stefano Gabriele (Roma Tre University), Lukas Ingold (ETH Zurich)

Visit Mister Mourão: | |

Author: Sigrid Adriaenssens

Our Summer Rammed Earth Experiment 3/3:

While we’ve completed construction on the rammed earth spiral, the project has really only just begun. Moving forward, our team is looking to properly introduce rammed earth into the Princeton community and to further research efforts by installing a sensor system to study rammed earth erosion and by building a solar-paneled roof over the spiral wall.

Community Engagement: Redefining Structures, Sustainability, and Service

Rammed earth is a uniquely sustainable, beautiful building material – and completely foreign to most people. With this project, we saw the opportunity to do more than research and focus on the idea that structures are built to interact with people. We wanted to create something that could broaden our community’s views on structures, sustainability, and service.

Working with the PACE Center for Civic Engagement, we’ve been able to expose Princeton students to rammed earth through volunteer events and service discussions. A student volunteer described how “the project had made us work together and become a single unit,” unknowingly hitting the mark on an ancient quality of earthen construction. Especially in developing areas where heavy machinery cannot be employed, earthen construction is known as a community building event. At a lunch event hosted by the PACE Center, our project incited a discussion between students from various departments about research as a form of service. We hope to hold similar events during the school year, as well as transform the Forbes Garden into a more usable space for all, where students can have class, a movie night, or just a place to relax and study.

We’ve also enjoyed holding workshops with local schools and summer camps, hoping to inspire students in civil engineering and STEM. Visiting students learn all about rammed earth construction and get to make their own rammed earth samples. Joint workshops with the Forbes Garden managers, sponsored by the Office of Sustainability, expose students to two very different but basic means of sustainability in their every day lives – sustainable food and shelter. So far, we’ve had collaborations with the Princeton YMCA, the Laurel School, and Princeton Nursery, and look forward to hosting more workshops in the near future.

Ongoing Research: Erosion Protection and Environmental Sensing

One of the primary reasons rammed earth is not a prevalent construction technique in areas with varied, seasonal climates such as New Jersey is a lack of understanding of structural erosion in winter temperatures and driving rain. Several studies have predicted that the actual erosion of rammed earth walls due to wind and rain in seasonal climates is negligible in comparison to the lifetime of the structures. Our research aims to compare the erosion of four rammed earth test walls, both with and without alterations to prevent erosion.

To quantify erosion, we will use an image-based modelling software to create 3D models of the wall and compare changes throughout time. We are also installing an array of soil moisture, temperature, humidity and radiation sensors to see how these environmental factors correlate to erosion on the different walls. As for the walls themselves, the different protection measures include chemical solutions – lime and silicone, and a natural solution – a native ivy. Our results can eventually add to the formation of rammed earth building codes and lead to the wider presence of rammed earth construction in seasonal climates.

Author: Amber Lin ’19

read Part 1 | read Part 2

“Postcards From …” Series: Summer 2016

Throughout the summer, friends of the Form Finding Lab have been sending postcards from the places they have visited. The postcards are also featured on our Facebook page. For this special summer post, we’ve compiled the postcards for all to enjoy!

For the next 2 weeks we are on vacation. Stay tuned for more of our exciting posts in September!

May 2016
May 2016
May 2016
June 2016
June 2016
July 2016
July 2016
July 2016
July 2016
July 2016
July 2016
July 2016
July 2016
July 2016
August 2016
August 2016

August 2016

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August 2016

Author: Victor Charpentier


In the spirit of the Olympic Games: the “Carioca Wave” Freeform of Rio de Janeiro


The Carioca Wave was completed in 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, not far from the 2016 Olympic Village site. We first discussed this structure in our interview with Knippers Helbig. In this post we observe architect Nir Sivan‘s design process for designing this elegant structure.

Creating the “Carioca Wave” project in Rio

When Nir Sivan got the opportunity to build a freeform steel/glass canopy roof as a welcoming entrance area to “CasaShopping,” South America’s biggest design center, he was thrilled and knew that whatever he designed, it had to be and behave as a part of the “marvelous city,” as Rio is often nicknamed.

Nir Sivan started working on the master plan in his office in Rome, but the actual shape of the project was only designed when he came to Rio. The inspiration came while he was sitting on one of the many famous beaches with a local cold drink. He remembers drawing in his sketchbook – 5 or 6 simple lines, but they captured it all:
 the calm; the movement; the sound, the “Carioca,” as locals from Rio area are called.

He created a shape of a single yet geometrically complex surface of the double curvature. The surface starts at the upper floor above a blue colored water pool, then rises up curving, growing forward, twisting to the other side, and finally dropping down to a lower floor, splashing into a white colored pool. Around it you will find water, sand, Portuguese paving, and other elements to merges the project with the local language.

Inspired by its context, the project was driven artistically and emotionally, and developed architecturally, adding both value and function to its surroundings.

“Sculpting architecture”

The design approach included sculpture and design methods that were further developed using automotive industry tools and advanced parametric instruments to ensure tight control of the very particular geometry. Nir Sivan developed this unique process involving automotive industry, believing it gave him complete freedom to create while maintaining coherence with concept, structure, and form.

Putting things together

Nir Sivan’s projects often require cutting-edge technologies as well as advanced fabrication and installation techniques. The Carioca Wave gridshell uses over 110 tons of carbon steel (fabricated in Czech republic), including 36mm-thick double-curved tubes, 765 different beams, and almost 300 different laser-cut shaped nodes, creating 503 varied triangles accommodated by glass panels that weigh 45 tons (fabricated in Japan) – all shipped to be installed in Brazil.

The partially-clad Carioca Wave gridshell is temporarily supported during construction.

As he often does in similar projects, Nir Sivan created a design-build group: he teamed up with engineers Knippers Helbig (Germany) as right-hand partners and construction company Seele (Austria HQ) for fabrication and installation. By doing so, he was involved in all aspects and processes of the development, assuring that his design intentions were maintained and that the final results corresponded to his expectations. The client was free from any responsibility of coordinating this international team.

Architecture precedent

The structural frame of the Carioca Wave canopy is a self-supporting gridshell, requiring neither columns nor lateral supports. Nir Sivan sought to combine this self-supporting system with wide cantilevers to push technology to its limits. As Nir Sivan was informed during its design, the Carioca Wave is the first freeform architecture in South American history.

Nir Sivan believes that people appreciate design and recognize the “added value” of implementing new techniques and technologies. He looks forward to sculpting more architecture worldwide.

Close-up of the gridshell support, lit at night

Image Courtesy Nir Sivan Architects

You can read more about Knippers Helbig Advanced Engineering in our previous post

What I am thinking: from Stuttgart to Rio 2016 SBP’s stadium designer Knut Stockhusen


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Rio de Janeiro, with Stadium Maracanã in the distance. © Marcus Bredt.

The world has tuned in to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to witness the highest caliber of athletics. However, unbeknownst to most spectators, this is also an occasion to see first-rate structural engineering: A lot of the action will be taking place against a backdrop of stadia and venues made possible by the work of schlaich bergermann partner (sbp).

Engineer Knut Stockhusen is a partner and managing director at sbp, and was paramount in establishing sbp’s presence in Brazil. In April, he came to visit Princeton to give a lecture and workshop on deployable roof structures, and I was lucky enough to sit down with him for a conversation.

Before talking about Brazil, I first wanted to hear more about schlaich bergermann partner.

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Rio de Janeiro Olympic Live Site (2016).© Dhani Borges

Olek Niewiarowski: You’re always traveling and working around the world, but you’re based in Stuttgart, Germany. How is that like?

Knut Stockhusen: Our HQ is in Stuttgart, that’s where a lot of our activities are coordinated. But we have five other offices: Berlin, where Mike Schlaich is professor, New York, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, and we opened an office in Paris just this year. We noticed over the last few years that while it’s good to have one “base camp”, we still need several locations where we can work and live. We can’t travel all the time, and it is paramount to adjust to the local culture and the way of doing things.

What is special about Stuttgart?

There are many things special about Stuttgart. Stuttgart is the place where a lot of technology and engineering got established. In our field, Fritz Leonhardt started his incredible career in Stuttgart. He had a very progressive approach and revolutionized the whole engineering world with principles that are still commonly used all around the world. For example, look at the Stuttgart Television Tower: It was the first of its kind in the world and it got “exported” everywhere. This environment was a very powerful base for new stars to rise, such as Jörg Schlaich. He started to develop new approaches to cable structure design for bridges and for other tensile structures. With the solution for the Olympic stadium in Munich, he not only developed, but also revolutionized that field. The influence of Jörg Schlaich on engineers in Stuttgart is quite visible. Of course, everyone develops their own approach, but it is very interesting to have several important players in such proximity. Sometimes it leads to competition, but in most cases it is just nice to be enveloped by such excellence.

It sounds like the “DNA” of the firm crystallized early with all these lightweight structures. On a day to day basis, how do you keep the SBP style alive?

In a way, it’s a certain engineering philosophy that we pursue. Its seeds came from Jörg Schlaich and Rudolf Bergermann, in the constant pursuit of an incredible variety of international projects and technologies, where the limits of feasibility were pushed constantly.

Those values were successfully inherited, enhanced and carried into a new era by the next generation of partners and the whole team. The will to explore the unexplored, to venture into new fields, to never hesitate, and to keep on developing, evolving and sometimes revolutionizing in a structural sense. That is something we live by on a day to day basis.

Can you give an example of how you live by this philosophy?

We are active in most of the fields of structural engineering. If you look at one of these, the field of stadium and large-span roof design, we have designed something like 50 stadiums around the world. Now if you compare the solutions, you will recognize that none looks like the other. Of course, every time we start a new project, we base our approach on what we learned before, but we yearn to develop something new. We try to find solutions that suit to the architectural layout, the environment of the city, and to the capabilities of the region. We try to form new creative teams, develop something that was never done before.

So maybe we can talk more about stadiums: What was your most challenging stadium project?

In terms of the combination of environment, cultural surroundings, and the technical capabilities of the region, the projects that we did in New Delhi were probably the most demanding. We designed stadiums for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and started our operations there in 2006. For the main stadium, the job was to develop a new spectator approach and roof structure. Since the existing tiers were in a state of conservation that was not so, let’s say, promising, we decided to do an independently-supported roof. Due to the setup there and the decisions taken by the authorities, that project really demanded a lot from our team, from myself, and the office. For example, they allowed the contractors to fabricate on site. So they first started to build fabrication plants on site, and the steel suppliers would just drop off the steel plates on site and the contractor would start to weld everything there.

We had to involve our fabrication experts to, for example, guide the contractor to build covered work areas to get out of the sunlight, because you have extreme heat and your steel distorts and all your lengths get messed up. It turned out well at the end of the day, but it was really challenging.


JNS Jawaharlal Nehrun Stadium (Delhi, India, 2010). The stadium features a classic SBP ring-cable system based on a spoke wheel. © Knut Stockhusen.

It sounds like you must be really aware of how things get done on the ground before you can even start designing?

Our approach is to design with excellence, perfection and uniqueness, but always considering the fact that someone is going to build what we’re designing.

We analyze the possible setup of the contractors, we consider their capabilities and who will actually do the work at the end of the day. We try to be involved in these projects from the first sketch to completion, in order to guide the client, who maybe has never done this before.  To achieve the best setup for fabrication and construction, we have experts in all fabrication issues who survey and guide fabrication. And in this particular case in India, we had to establish a full-time supervision team on site, which was not planned for in the beginning. They actually taught unskilled workers on site how to weld and then test the welds, in order to guarantee that the whole structure is capable of 50-year lifetime.

So when you talk about supervision, how does a contractor in India respond to that? Is that something they are used to, or was it a new thing for them?

The detailed involvement of a structural designer was an extremely new experience for them. And it is actually new at many projects. Our philosophy of not “letting go” of a project once the design is finished may create a certain friction in the beginning. However, in all the cases that we’ve been involved, it turned out to be a truly successful collaboration in which the site teams appreciated our input. You need time to get used to each other, and that demands a lot from both sides.

We are engineers who roam the world looking for beautiful projects. We cannot expect and we don’t want to expect that people get used to our culture. Maybe to our culture of building, the culture of construction, and certain safety standards, yes, but it is our duty to get used to the circumstances of a particular region and to rules of engagement.

This can be very exciting and at the same time very demanding, but it’s also rewarding because you get to know the culture, you get to know the people. Everyone in the company who gets to travel to sites establishes strong friendships that add to the success of schlaich bergermann partner.

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Stadium Maracanã (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2013) © Marcus Bredt.

SBP’s Sao Paulo office opened before the 2014 World Cup. What was your role in that again?

We opened the office in 2007 and I almost moved there because I traveled every third week or so. Together with our Brazilian director Miriam Sayeg, who is crucial to the success of the establishment, I manage the South American activities. You need someone who is engaged in the local community and environment, especially in a country like Brazil, someone from Brazil who knows their way around in terms of communication and culture and networking.

Do you have a favorite stadium in Brazil? Is there one we should look out for during the Games?

Normally, the Olympics are held in one city – it’s called “Rio 2016” for a reason – so it becomes its own brand. The interesting thing about Rio 2016 is that some events will take place in other cities in some of the stadiums built for the World Cup, because they are there! For example, the Arena da Amazônia in Manaus will host soccer.

Which stadium do I find most interesting? From an emotional and personal point of view, I would say Maracanã Stadium. It’s the one that you dream of as a stadium designer (and a soccer fan) and it’s a spectacular project in a very spectacular environment.

Stadium Maracanã © Marcus Bredt.

But the Arena da Amazônia is also a very special project for me. It took a great deal of personal effort to engage in the environment and to realize that project in such a special and remote city. I believe the design is really incredible: it’s a very beautiful project – in a wonderful part of our planet.

Arena da Amazônia (Manaus, Brazil, 2014) © Marcus Bredt.

Everyone is worried about the rainforest and that is also very important for us, so it’s also interesting to mention that no tree had to be cut down to build the stadium. But in particular, no one would have taken notice of this region during these mega events if there wasn’t a venue there for certain games. So now, like in the World Cup, billions of people will look at that region and maybe start thinking.

For the people living there it is very important to be part of the whole show. That’s already a good reason for having the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus.

So does that tie into the social responsibility that sbp advertises? It sounds like you can make stadium building a sustainable venture.

Yes, in a way it is part of our philosophy that we try to reflect in the way we design. We design structures that can engage the local capabilities and work force to create jobs. On the other hand, the main motivation to work in the field of lightweight structures and intelligent structural systems is to try to avoid wasting resources. Sustainability is a very big term that everyone is talking about. What is really sustainable?

The material that is not used is the most sustainable material, hence we try to limit the use of natural resources as much as possible. By doing that, the beautiful lightness of our design becomes visible.

Not everyone has to love it, but in our eyes, the lightness and elegance of slenderness motivates us to come back day after day.

We were running out of time, but I still had two very important questions for Knut.

What question do you never get asked, but would like to be asked?

Ah yes, that is the most important question. The question would be, “Are you happy with what you do?” Yes, I’m very happy. We are happy with the work that we do; it’s a very profound work. There is also this sense of evolution and development that is the foundation of our great team. It inspires and keeps people in the office. They see that they can contribute and have a significant impact.

What is your advice to students interested in lightweight structures?

Call me.


Author: Olek Niewiarowski

All images courtesy of Schlaich Bergermann Partner.