What is a shell structure?


A shell structure refers to a thin, curved plate designed to transmit forces through tensile stresses that act within the plane of the shell surface. Shells are constructed of concrete reinforced with steel mesh, allowing structures to be built up to 300 feet across. Shell structures came into use in the 1920s and were popular during World War II.

Shell structures have been built as thin as 1/2-inch and include shapes such as saddles, mushrooms, parabolas and monolithic domes. These domes have been constructed in 45 states for uses including churches and sports venues. David B. South perfected monolithic dome structures in architecture.

Pioneers of shell structures include Anton Tedesko, Pier Luigi Nervi, Eduardo Torroja and Felix Candela. Todesko was responsible for thin-shell designs in the United States including the hemispherical dome of the Hayden Planetarium and the roof of the Hershey Sports Arena in Pennsylvania. The Hayden Planetarium is the first full-scale thin concrete dome built in the United States. Nervi introduced the idea of flexible steel mesh to reinforce concrete in shells, making the structures even stronger. Nervi built the Turin Exhibition Hall and the George Washington Bridge bus terminal in New York. Torroja built several structures in Spain while Candela, his student, built the Queensgate Market in Huddersfield, England.

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