The great pyramids remain beautiful marvels of design, engineering knowledge, fabrication ability, and precision. The architect builder(s) of the great pyramids achieved seemingly impossible feats. They imagined, visualized, and realized structures of stacked stones, dwarfing design construction accomplishments still to this day. Stones were shaped and placed one by one with rudimentary tools and slave labor. It was slow-going, and each layer of stone became the scaffold for the next.
Gravity was overcome with each stone as the laborers lifted and carried it to its predetermined place in the composition. What process was in place to organize the fabrication and installation of millions of stones over decades of time by thousands of workers and achieve the parti with degrees of precision that would be considered extraordinary today?
Finally, every stone was at rest and carried the weight of those above, stone by stone down to the sand. Many mysteries remain about exactly how these complex and precise structures were accomplished. How were ideas documented and communicated among the tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of laborers? In the case of Giza, what tools ensured that the lengths of the four sides varied by only 58mm? What process was in place to organize the fabrication and installation of millions of stones over decades of time by thousands of workers and achieve the parti with degrees of precision that would be considered extraordinary today?
The pyramidal form is simple and beautiful. These structures are even more beautiful as monuments to the ingenuity of the designer builders. Each is a three-dimensional diagram of the forces of gravity at work, cementing every stone in its exact position in balance with nature. We will never know if the builders understood the science of the design or simply selected the shape for its form and because it was buildable with the tools available. Eero Saarinen understood the forces of nature. Many centuries after the pyramids, he collaborated with colleagues, engineers, a mathematician, and builders to achieve balance with gravity to realize his competition-winning design. Rising from the banks of the Mississippi River is the monument to the vision of Thomas Jefferson.
The St. Louis Arch, as it is widely known, stands today as an inverted catenary curve resting in pure compression and void of all shear. Accomplishing such an undertaking demanded innovation in all aspects of design and construction. His team approached the design utilizing mathematical formula to determine the form, sectional design, and dimensions of the entire building. High-carbon steel and concrete were combined to create a balance of form, structure, durability, aesthetics, and constructability. New elevator and other building systems were invented to provide usefulness and comfort.
The design accommodated a construction approach relying on the incomplete structure to carry the weight of the workers and their tools and materials as they progressed toward the keystone piece joining the two legs of the curve. The meeting of the two legs that rise from a distance 630 feet apart to a height 630 feet above the earth demanded precision. An error greater than 1/64 inch could not be tolerated if the legs were to meet. The final section would only be allowed to slip into place with the help of nature. The only force powerful enough to align the two legs exactly into position was the sun. Solar radiation landing on the opposing legs of the arch the morning of October 28, 1965, widened the gap enough to insert the keystone section precisely and complete the arch.
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