The Hyperbolic Paraboloids of the Prairie

by Paula Bosse

hyperbolic_paraboloidThe future is NOW! (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

In amongst things the things I’ve haphazardly collected (and I use the term loosely) over the years is this postcard. The image looks familiar to me, as if I remember actually seeing it — but I think that might just be because I’ve looked at this postcard so long. The first thing that popped into my head when I saw it was “turnpike,” but until I read up on the history of local highways (my days are fun-filled!), I wasn’t entirely sure where the turnpike had been other than “the other side of downtown, toward Fort Worth.” Did I ever see this sign and attendant weird looming structures when I was a child? Unless it was still up in the ’70s, I probably didn’t. So what is it?

Here’s the text from the back:

  • Concrete wings
  • THREE HYPERBOLIC PARABOLOIDS
  • GREAT SOUTHWEST INDUSTRIAL DISTRICT
  • Midway between Dallas and Fort Worth
  • “Located on U.S. 80, these hyperbolic paraboloids stand as insignia of the vast Great Southwest Industrial District in the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. This thin shell ‘concrete umbrella’ construction form was pioneered in the Untied States by Great Southwest Corporation, developer of a 5500-acre planned industrial district.”

It was somewhere around Arlington and Grand Prairie, back when it was still a vast, undeveloped area being planned in the mid-1950s by Angus Wynne who would, a few years later, bring us Six Flags Over Texas. (US Hwy 80 no longer runs west of Dallas — that stretch is now, I think, Hwy 180 — it was shoved off its Great American Interstate Highway pedestal by the DFW Turnpike and the arrival of what is now Interstate 30.)

But … “hyperbolic paraboloids”? Those things are so cool. The “hyperbolic paraboloid” was developed by Mexico-based Spanish engineer-architect Felix Candela who worked in the Dallas area with the great architect O’Neil Ford (on, specifically, the Great Southwest Industrial District and the Texas Instruments Semiconductor Building). Candela is pretty interesting — look him up. Without Candela’s paraboloids and his contributions to engineering and architecture, Santiago Calatrava probably wouldn’t be doing the sort of thing that he’s doing.

Here’s another view of (other) paraboloids out on the Texas prairie. They’re like elegant, curved, inverted parasols. Kind of. Made from thin shells of concrete. (One source identified these paraboloids as being part of the Great Southwestern Industrial District and another source as being from the Texas Instruments campus. Either way, it’s Felix Candela, all the way.)

paraboloid_texas-instruments

I’m still trying to figure out if I ever saw that fantastic sign and those three silent, looming paraboloids. It’s all pretty cool-looking, and it must have been an unexpected sight in the middle of what was, then, basically nothing.

Speaking of Candela and Calatrava, here’s a photo of the two together:

calatrava-candela

And here’s another paraboloid-y structure that stands out in the DFW area — you might have seen it:

calatrava_parabola

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Photo of Calatrava and Candela from the blog An Engineer’s Aspect, here.

Photo of the Calatrava bridge from Pinterest, here.

A good overview of Felix Candela’s work, with photos and a video, is on the Columbia University website, here.

The Great Southwest Industrial District (Arlington and Grand Prairie) still exists, and their website has a history page which explains its creation and development by Angus Wynne, here.

Lastly, who could resist reading up on just what the heck a “hyperbolic paraboloid” is (warning: math) — Wikipedia’s on it, here.

UPDATE: Thanks to comments below, I’m happy to present another photo of the paraboloids, this one from the cover of the 1960 Arlington High School yearbook, complete with Shetland pony! Click the image below to see a larger image of the photo inset. (Thanks to Brad McCorkle for alerting me to the photo — it was taken by his father, Lynn McCorkle, intrepid student photographer!)

paraboloid_arlington-high-school-yrbk_1960

Some pictures larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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