Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A cut above the Eiffel Tower: Architects are studying constructions from Russian engineer Shukov

Vladimir G. Shukhov was one of the most ingenious engineers of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

He developed a number of revolutionary construction techniques including the first suspended roof structure. The Russian engineer built lattice towers up to 150 meters high using rows of twisted, intersecting bars – an extremely efficient, stable and above all elegant construction method. An international research team is now investigating the structural behavior, construction and current condition of these works. Andrij Kutnyi from Technische Universität München (TUM) was the first scientist to gain access to the 100-year-old, Shukhov-built lighthouses in the Black Sea.

Lighthouse in the estuary of Dnjepr, built by Vladimir G. Schuchov in 1911. Andrij Kutnyi / Technical University of Munich

Lighthouse in the estuary of Dnjepr, built by Vladimir G. Schuchov in 1911. Andrij Kutnyi / Technical University of Munich

During the two and half weeks spent on a tiny man-made island with two lighthouse keepers, Andrij Kutnyi had to deal with poisonous snakes and watch his drinking water supplies dwindle as temperatures soared. Yet the architectural historian took it all in his stride. He was, after all, one of the first scientists to experience firsthand an early modernist architectural masterpiece – exactly one hundred years after it had been built. The 70-meter high lighthouse and its 25-meter high front beacon still guide ships along the range line from the Black Sea to the Dnieper River and into the Ukraine. Until five years ago, the lighthouse was part of a military exclusion zone. Ukrainian-born Kutnyi was granted access just in time for the lighthouse’s anniversary.

The towers’ steel lattices sweep elegantly up to the sky, easily supporting the lantern rooms despite their delicate appearance. The lattice design was invented by the Russian engineer Vladimir G. Shukhov (1853-1939) in what proved to be an unprecedented move in construction history. To create his structures, Shukhov arranged two parallel groups of rods in a circle and twisted these against each other to create the hyperboloid shape and “waist” – the same shape of cooling towers today.

This apparently simple arrangement has a number of key benefits. Firstly, it only requires minimum amounts of material. For a 350-meter radio mast in Moscow, which ultimately was never built, Shukhov planned to use just 2,000 tons of steel. In contrast, around 10,000 tons of steel went into the 300-meter Eiffel Tower. Secondly, it creates a lightweight structure that is surprisingly stable. The opposing curves in the lattice structure enable it to bear major loads.

Seven years after the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower at the World’s Fair in Paris, Shukhov presented the first of his towers at the All-Russia Exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod. This was followed by a veritable building boom in water towers, oil and gas tanks and transmission towers. Due to the high strength offered by Shukhov’s technique, Russia and the US used it to build radio towers on battle ships. And the structures are still in use today. The recently completed Canton Tower in Chinese city of Guangzhou, which – at 600 meters – is the sixth highest building in the world, is a hyperboloid structure. “Shukhov invented one of the most intelligent and effective design principles in the history of steel construction,” explains TUM architect Kutnyi. And it was not the only revolutionary idea to come from Shukhov, the chief engineer of a major construction company. He also developed suspended roof structures, arch structures and grid shell structures. In many cases, these designs were not used again until the second half of the 20th century. The roofs of Munich’s Olympic stadium are a prime example. “Shukhov is one of the most important pioneers in lightweight construction,” reports Matthias Beckh from the TUM Department of Structural Design. Yet his structural work has been all but forgotten in the West. The lighthouses in the Black Sea are at most familiar landmarks to ships’ captains.

Therefore, the first aim of the interdisciplinary research project, which brings together scientists from the University of Innsbruck and ETH Zurich, is to identify all of Shukhov’s works. The researchers have already found numerous previously unknown projects. Many towers are in an extreme state of disrepair and in danger of collapsing. Yet the extent of the damage also reveals just how strong these structures are. One transmission tower was still standing although 16 of the 40 vertical bars at the base were missing. In this case, the engineers were able to kick-start renovation work. Other structures have already been destroyed. Recently, a Shukhov structure that the researchers had only just discovered was dismantled. The engineers’ hope that their research will raise awareness of these structures and increase the chances of them being preserved.

In a second phase, architectural historians at TUM intend to measure and document the structures and reconstruct the engineering processes. On his first visit to the Dnieper lighthouse, Andrij Kutnyi discovered that the construction workers used a method that dates back to medieval times. The workers made notches in the individual pieces to number them before they were raised and assembled – a technique very similar to the methods used by medieval carpenters. “This numbering is very valuable information for us. We can use it to determine the sequence in which the tower was built,” enthuses Kutnyi. The engineers already know that this tower is particularly special. At 70 meters, it is the highest tower to have just one “waist”, as Shukhov built his other towers in several sections, each a hyperboloid shape in its own right.

The structural engineers at TUM will also be investigating the individual factors that make the towers so stable. This includes examining the parameters that determine the shape of a hyperboloid, as well as the interplay between geometry and load-bearing characteristics. The researchers plan to test models of the towers in TUM’s wind tunnel. “Nobody knows how much of an impact wind really has on these complex structures,” explains Matthias Beckh. “This makes it difficult to apply conventional engineering standards.” The research project could lay the foundations for a renaissance in Shukhov’s timelessly elegant structures – making them ideal candidates for new transmission towers that will be needed as the world moves towards more renewable energy sources.

The project is entitled “Secrets of early modernist architecture – Shukhov’s strategies for efficient steel construction” (Konstruktionswissen der frühen Moderne – Schuchovs Strategien des sparsamen Eisenbaus) and brings together researchers from the Institute of Building History, Building Archaeology and Heritage Conservation (Prof. Manfred Schuller) and the Department of Structural Design (Prof. Rainer Barthel) at TUM as well as engineers from the Architectural Archive of Innsbruck University (Prof. Rainer Graefe) and the Institute of Historic Building Research and Conservation at ETH Zurich (Prof. Uta Hassler). The participants are cooperating with the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Shukhov Tower Foundation in Moscow and several Russian universities. The project is supported by the German Research Foundation’s D-A-CH program, the Austrian Science Fund and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Dipl.-Ing. Matthias Beckh
Technische Universitaet Muenchen (Technical University of Munich)
Department of Structural Design (Prof. Rainer Barthel)
Tel.: +49 89 289 23157
Dr. Andrij Kutnyi
Technische Universitaet Muenchen (Technical University of Munich)
Institute of Building History, Building Archaeology and Heritage Conservation (Prof. Manfred Schuller)

Dr. Ulrich Marsch | TU München
Further information:

More articles from Architecture and Construction:

nachricht Rock solid: Carbon-reinforced concrete from Augsburg
11.10.2016 | Universität Augsburg

nachricht Heating and cooling with environmental energy
22.09.2016 | FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz-Institut für Informationsinfrastruktur GmbH

All articles from Architecture and Construction >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>