ARC 455/555 - Structures III: Mechanical Object and Spatial Generator

Felix Candela’s innovative hyperbolic-paraboloid, thin-shell, reinforced concrete ‘umbrella.’ Mexico, 1950s.

Felix Candela’s innovative hyperbolic-paraboloid, thin-shell, reinforced concrete ‘umbrella.’ Mexico, 1950s. 

This is the third course in the structures sequence and will attempt to connect the basic understanding of structural behavior acquired in previous courses to the design-related thinking integral to the production of architecture. Thus, although focused on the study of structures, this course will investigate the relationship between structure and architecture. 

The aim will be to get students to “see” structure as integral to architecture, or how it forms the basis for understanding both the mechanical and conceptual aspects inherent in the art of building. While it is easy to imagine structures without architecture (i.e. construction cranes and transmission towers whose sole purpose is to keep loads lifted up off the ground), there can be no architecture without structure. As even the layman would understand, the most obvious and basic function of a structure is its capacity to keep something above the ground by bearing loads, and the practical use gained from that capacity is to keep floors, walls, and roofs in an elevated position, thereby establishing inhabitable spaces. In many cases in architecture, however, structures are not solely associated with such load-bearing functions. Ideally, a tight correlation is established between structure, space, and formal expression so that describing and characterizing a structure solely in terms of its load-bearing function is clearly insufficient. To understand structures in a broader sense as being part of an architectural context also means “seeing” their forms as space-defining elements, or as devices that modulate the inflow and quality of daylight, or that reflect today’s cultural concerns, or any number of assigned functions. Hence, structures can serve many purposes simultaneously to carrying loads. By drawing from architectural canon, contemporary projects, and material experimentation, we will explore how structures play a role both as provider of necessary stiffness and strength (which are the basic mechanical prerequisites for carrying load safely), and as an instrument for creating architectural spaces that embody certain other qualities as mentioned above.


Christopher Romano, assistant professor of architecture, explores the relationship between design, construction and the contemporary culture of building by leveraging regional manufacturing and material processes.