The Art of Structural Engineering: Vaults

Maria Garlock

  • Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Learn about the design of classic and contemporary vaults and discover how structural engineering is a creative discipline and art form.

In this engineering course you will learn how to analyze vaults (long-span roofs) from three perspectives:

  1. Efficiency = calculations of forces/stresses
  2. Economy = evaluation of societal context and cost
  3. Elegance = form/appearance based on engineering principles, not decoration

We explore iconic vaults like the Pantheon, but our main focus will be on contemporary vaults built after the industrial revolution. The vaults we examine are made of different materials, such as tile, reinforced concrete, steel and glass, and were created by masterful engineers/builders like Rafael Guastavino, Anton Tedesko, Pier Luigi Nervi, Eduardo Torroja, Felix Candela, and Heinz Isler.

This course illustrates:

  • how engineering is a creative discipline and can become art
  • the influence of the economic and social context in vault design
  • the interplay between forces and form

The course has been created for a general audience – no advanced math or engineering prerequisites are needed.  This is the second of three courses on the Art of Structural Engineering, each of which are independent of each other. The course on bridges was launched in 2016, and another course will be developed on buildings/towers.

You will learn: 

  • How to solve for the efficiency of structures using the appropriate formulas
  • How to evaluate a structure within the measures of structural art
  • How economic, social and culture influences structural design
  • How to analyze vaulted forms: domes, cantilevers, hypars, arches

Course Status

Open for enrollment.