Gateway Arch: Architecture Born of Mathematics

Gateway Arch is one of the most impressive monuments with its simple stance, which does not exaggerate despite the massive improvements in developing technology. Gateway Arch, a product of Eero Saarinen’s minimal architectural approach, can be seen as a continuation of the monumental American tradition, simple in form but impressive in technique.

Eero Saarinen, St. While designing the monument in St. Louis, he was inspired by the catenary curve in mathematics. Even choosing the catenary curve as the starting point gives some clues about the building’s technical difficulties. However, we will discuss these in more detail a little later. Now let’s tell the story about this futuristic minimalist monument from the beginning that came to life in 1965.

Father and Son Compete

Gateway Arch is a monument project that came to life in 1965. The selection of the project was made as to the result of a competition. Both Gateway Arch’s designer Eero Saarinen and his architect father, Eliel Saarinen, participated in the competition.
Although Eero Saarinen won the competition, the winner was first announced as father Eliel Saarinen after a little confusion. Then, the correct result was declared to the family with an apology telegram.

Rumour has it that when Eero Saarinen received the telegram, he was already at a dinner where his family and father celebrated Eliel winning the competition. So we don’t think they canceled the party.

New Monument in the Old Courthouse

Today, Gateway Arch is located in Gateway Arch National Park. However, when you look at his most famous photographs, you see a structure that looks right under the monument. That building is the old Courthouse of the city.
Saarinen had a lot of thought in positioning the Gateway Arch. Because Gateway Arch frames the Courthouse in both directions, this historical building and the modern monument blend pleasantly. Already the photos of the duo are St. They make up iconic images of the city of Louis.
He also wanted the Saarinen Gateway Arch to stand as an observation tower. The unique and highly complex cross-lift system has been developed to reach the monument’s top point, 192 meters high. Today, you can use this elevator with a 12-person cabin to view the city differently.

Engineering Challenges

Above, we mentioned that the catenary curve inspires Gateway Arch. So what is this catenary curve? The catenary curve is mathematically called the shape formed when you fix an ideal chain at only two ends and let it oscillate with its weight. Here Saarinen was also inspired by this form for Gateway Arch.

However, even someone who has no architectural background can look at Gateway Arch and realize some difficulties building such a structure. Saarinen solved the challenges arising from the form of the building in two different ways;

Although the catenary curve form inspires gateway Arch, it is not a perfect curve. The curve, which constitutes the starting point of the design, has been distorted to increase structural efficiency and aesthetic concerns.

The structure remotely resembles a solid steel ribbon. So slender and graceful, it stands in its place in the parking lot as if curled up like a piece of paper. However, in reality, Gateway Arch consists of steel-covered triangular concrete modules. The steel plates are mounted so tightly together that the structure looks like a single piece from a distance.

The legs, whose thickness is between 16 meters and 5 meters, are perceived thinner than they are thanks to the steel plates’ reflectivity.

Up to this point, many problems may have been solved, at least from an aesthetic point of view. However, Saarinen’s need to deal with the Gateway Arch’s building process is not limited to these.

Although the concrete triangle modules of the Gateway Arch were built on-site, their stainless steel legs were produced at the factory. It was sent to the construction site by train from Pennsylvania. These separately made parts had to be combined at the construction site. As steel, which is already a sensitive material, is put into such a complex form, the margin of error for Gateway Arch’s feet has decreased to 0.3 mm. In short, it is a significant engineering and construction dual that Gateway Arch is standing safely today!

Gateway Arch St Louis is the symbol of the city. It is one of the structures where steel is used most successfully in terms of architecture and engineering. The Gateway Arch and the name behind it, Eero Saarinen, which managed to impress visitors even today with their simplicity in form and complexity in technique, deserve every praise!

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