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Ropes and cables are flexible. If a rope hangs freely
under its dead weight it takes the form of a Catenary
curve. The higher the curvature, the lower is the
horizontal component of the reaction forces.
The form changes for different point loads.
A fabric that hangs freely under its dead weight also
changes its shape if it is loaded, it could even reverse
its form.
Tension implies an optimal use of the material, since the
whole section is uniformly stressed. Moreover there is no
buckling problem, like it is the case for compression.
The form finding of fabric structures tries to take full
advantage of the tensile strength of the material, while
preventing negative stresses to occur.
To withstand upward and downward loads, a cable has to be
stabilized and pretensioned : compression in this case
means a reduction of the initial pretension.
It makes sense that you would think that the curved chain is
a parabola. Both the Catenary and the parabola have similar
properties. Both curves have a single low point. They both
have a vertical line of symmetry, they at least appear to be
continuous and differentiable throughout, and the slope is
steeper as we move away from the low point, but it never
becomes vertical.
This is a picture of the master
mechanic E.F. Farrington
traveling the length of the newly
installed cable of the Brooklyn
Bridge. The cable is an example
of a Catenary, curving under the
weight of itself (the weight of
Farrington is insignificant).

This picture shows the deck being

added to the cables of the
Brooklyn Bridge. The Catenary is
slowly becoming a parabola
A folded plate is an example of a 3-dimensional or space
structure. To consider the effectiveness of the folded
plate look at the following experiment.
When a thin sheet of paper rests between two supports it
will bend due to the fact that it has insufficient strength
to carry its own weight.
If the same piece of paper is folded then it will be
capable of supporting one hundred times its own weight.
If the load is increased past this point then the structure
will fail and the folds will flatten out.
This problem can be rectified by using transverse
stiffeners at the ends. The folded plate acts as a beam and
can support even greater loads.
Folded plates consist of straight pieces joined with sharp
edges. It cannot be made as thin as a shell due to the fact
that it is subjected to bending.
The result of this bending can be seen in the animation
Folded plates can be seen as a space version of a rigid
frame. Folded plates are best formed from reinforced concrete
due to the fact that they can be easily cast. Folded plates
can take the form of frames as seen above or domes.
A shell structure is a thin curved
membrane or slab usually of
reinforced concrete that functions
both as structure and coverings, the
structure deriving its strength and
rigidity from the curved shell form.
Natural rigidity of shell of an egg,
nut, crustacean’s tortoise, bamboo
section, coconut shell.
A shell is a 3 d structure considered
with a curved membrane acting as a
stretched skin.

Capable of transferring loads in more

than two directions to supports
without bending or twisting a thin
membrane is made structurally
possible by providing restraint at
edges against bending stresses
a) Single curvature shells
b) Double curvature shells.
single curvature shells are curved
on one linear axis and are part of
a cylinder or cone
1) barrel vaults
2) conoid shells.
Double curvature shells are either
part of a dome or a hyperboloid or

Attraction of elegant simplicity of curved
shell forms that utilize the natural
strength and stiffness of shell form with
great economy in the use of material.
More expensive than a part framed
structure, cost of labor, the construction
of centering of shell is very high.
most suited : concrete , highly plastic
with small section, reinforcement bars to
follow curvature of shells