Day 57/365 of Steel – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le Ricolais (d. 4 june 1977 Neuilly-sur-Seine) was a french architect and engineer, with a career in both the USA and France, and known for his research into tensegrity and trellises.
His university studies in math and physics were curtailed by World War I, during which he was wounded and decorated.

A Photo of Robert le Ricolais
Fig 1: A Photo of Robert le Ricolais
Photographer Étienne HUBERT.

As a practicing hydraulics engineer, he introduced in 1935 the concept of corrugated stress skins to the building industry and was awarded the Medal of the French Society of Civil Engineers. Then in 1940 his work on three-dimensional structures introduced many architects to the concept of space frames. After years of research and many patents he was well established as the “father of space structures.”, together with Buckminster Fuller

Automorphic Compression Member & Automorphic Tube Model
Fig 2s: Automorphic Compression Member & Automorphic Tube Model
Photo: George Nelson: The Design of Modern Design’. MIT Press, 2000

Robert le Ricolais’s wire-frame tensegrity structures may well stand as sculptural artworks in their own right. His finely crafted forms appear to have a remarkable lightness, insinuating objects of flight, part kite, part airship skeleton. Their balanced forms create a meditative aerodynamic aesthetic, implying propulsion or rotation. Some, throwing their graphic wire-frame shadows into space, defy gravity through their nearly-not-thereness.

Re-tensionned Monkey Saddle
Fig 3: Re-tensionned Monkey Saddle

Of the large structures he designed with the “Aplex” patent, the only one remaining today is the administrative garage in Yaoundé, Cameroon, rediscovered in May 2017, a three-dimensional structure built in 1947 covering 3400 m².

Polyten Bridge
Fig 4: Polyten Bridge

Suffering from a lack of recognition in France, he chose In 1951 to immigrate the United States where he was offered the position of professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He became befriended with Louis I. Kahn and together they worked on subjects such as repetitive structures, tensile structures, double-curvature surfaces and the automorphism and dualism of structures. In 1974 he succeeded Louis Kahn and was awarded the Paul Philippe Cret Chair of Architecture at the University of Philadelphia. In 1976 he was awarded the prestigious prize of the American Institute of Architects.

Funicular Polygon of Revolution Lemniscate
Fig 5: Funicular Polygon of Revolution Lemniscate

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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