Historic Structural Detail: Curvy

by Don Friedman on July 14, 2016

I travelled to Philadelphia yesterday, and two buildings constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad caught my eye. First, Newark Penn Station, completed in 1935:


Next, the Suburban Lines area at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, completed in 1933:


Two different high-powered architecture firms designed these stations but they share similar curved roof trusses constructed of riveted, built-up steel.

My first thought is that the architect’s client, the PRR, was a powerful corporation that had a lot of experience building and maintaining stations, and these similar roofs may be more of a reflection of the railroad’s expertise and interests than a specific design intent on the part of McKim, Mead and White (at Newark) and  Graham, Anderson, Probst and White (at Philadelphia).

My second thought was that steel, properly designed and constructed, has just as much geometric flexibility as concrete. It’s not a very original thought, but worth repeating every so often.

My last thought was I’ve seen this recently on a bigger scale. I guess style in structural engineering isn’t dead.



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