Sculpture on a Grand Scale
Jack Christiansen’s Thin Shell Modernism
- PUBLISHED: July 2019
- SUBJECT LISTING: Architecture, Pacific Northwest / Art and Culture
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 304 Pages, 8 x 10 in, 52 b&w illus., 112 color illus.
- ISBN: 9780295745619
The Kingdome, John (“Jack”) Christiansen’s best-known work, was the largest freestanding concrete dome in the world. Built amid public controversy, the multipurpose arena was designed to stand for a thousand years but was demolished in a great cloud of dust after less than a quarter century.
Many know the fate of Seattle’s iconic dome, but fewer are familiar with its innovative structural engineer, Jack Christensen (1927–2017), and his significant contribution to Pacific Northwest and modernist architecture. Christiansen designed more than a hundred projects in the region: public schools and gymnasiums, sculptural church spaces, many of the Seattle Center’s 1962 World’s Fair buildings, and the Museum of Flight’s vast glass roof all reflect his expressive ideas. Inspired by Northwest topography and drawn to the region’s mountains and profound natural landscapes, Christiansen employed hyperbolic paraboloid forms, barrel-vault structures, and efficient modular construction to echo and complement the forms he loved in nature. Notably, he became an enthusiastic proponent of using thin shell concrete—the Kingdome being the most prominent example—to create inexpensive, utilitarian space on a large scale.
Tyler Sprague places Christiansen within a global cohort of thin shell engineer-designers, exploring the use of a remarkable structural medium known for its minimal use of material, architectually expressive forms, and long-span capability. Examining Christiansen’s creative design and engineering work, Sprague, who interviewed Christiansen extensively, illuminates his legacy of graceful, distinctive concrete architectural forms, highlighting their lasting imprint on the region’s built environment.
A Michael J. Repass Book
Authors & Contributors
Tyler S. Sprague is assistant professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington and serves on the boards of the Construction History Society of America and the Western Washington chapter of Docomomo.
[A] seminal text on the built environment of the Pacific Northwest.- Pacific Norhwest History
When Christiansen built the largest freestanding concrete dome on earth, he established himself as the structural artist of the Pacific Northwest. This book is a must-read for aficionados interested in the intersection of engineering and the arts. To contemporary shell designers I say, “Read this book and learn from this giant!”- Sigrid M. Adriaenssens, Co-author of Shell Structures for Architecture: Form Finding and Optimisation
Tyler Sprague’s skillful blend of biography and comprehensible design studies brilliantly cements Jack Christiansen’s place among the pantheon of exemplary structural artists.- John F. Abel, Former President of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS)
Jack Christiansen pioneered new possibilities in structural engineering and architecture for decades, yet his work is largely unknown due in part to his intentional lack of self-promotion. Tyler Sprague's definitive book follows the arc of Christiansen’s extraordinary career and gleans lessons for designers, builders, and historians alike.- John Ochsendorf, professor of engineering and architecture, MIT
In the many stories that have been told of twentieth-century architecture, engineers’ contributions have been largely ignored. The extraordinary work of designer-engineer Jack Christiansen exposes the limitations of those old narratives. Sculpture on a Grand Scale should be required reading for anyone interested in the history of American architecture.- Dale Allen Gyure, professor of architecture, Lawrence Technological University