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Thin Shell Structures

Sigrid Adriaenssens and Branko Glisic co-taught a course on German thin-shell structures at Princeton University that has resulted in a new exhibit, “Evolution of German Shells: Efficiency in Form.” The exhibit is on view on the Princeton campus in the Friend Center Engineering Library.

The undergraduate course, CEE 463, included a week-long 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 also 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 such as art and architecture, students are encouraged to go see the works of, for example, Monet or Le Corbusier,” said Adriaenssens, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Both Adriaenssens and Glisic, also an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, consider the field trip to have been a cornerstone of the class. “The goal of the Germany trip was to expose the students to real-life settings,” Glisic said.

Adriaenssens said that another key goal of the Germany trip was to meet with the people who designed many of the buildings they visited. “Actually going to offices and seeing what engineers and architects do during the course of a work 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.

Following their field trip to Germany, the students created models of the structures they studied using different techniques.

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