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Shell Structures inspire a paradigm shift in design thinking

- Wits University

New book on shell structures is unique. Wits is one of five universities globally to focus on this engineering structure.

Dr Mitchell Gohnert at his Shell Structures Book Launch

Shell structures have long held a significant place in the world of architecture, gracing cathedrals, mosques, government buildings, and sports arenas with their iconic beauty, strength, and structural efficiency. These architectural marvels stand as a testament to the remarkable capabilities of shell structures. However, beyond their aesthetic appeal, the true potential of shell structures reaches much farther, revolutionising the field of engineering with practical applications. Recognising the need for a comprehensive resource on shell structures, Professor Mitchell Gohnert, an eminent authority in civil and environmental engineering, unveiled his book titled Shell Structures: Theory and Application published by Springer, at Wits University on 31 August 2023.

In academia, books are crucial in consolidating and presenting comprehensive knowledge on specific subjects. The book delves into the mathematical theory of shell structures, addressing a crucial void in the existing literature. While other publications provide equations and fragments of theory, they often omit the intricate mathematical derivations that underpin the design principles of these structures. Consequently, engineers frequently accept the design equations without gaining a complete understanding of the underlying shell theory. Gohnert's book bridges this gap by offering a comprehensive and accessible explanation of shell theory, making it suitable for students, academics, and practicing structural engineers.

Reflecting on his latest book, Gohnert said the book which was written during his sabbatical was an expectation “as academics we are expected to write books and share the knowledge with others, that is how we give back to society."

Professor Mitchell Gohnert with Dr Ryan Bradley at Shell Structures Book Launch

During the book launch, Gohnert expressed gratitude to his colleague, Dr Ryan Bradley, for his contributions in proving the theories in the book. “The book's ground-breaking research on catenary shells, the most optimal structures known to humankind, owes much of its success to Ryan's rigorous proof. This collaboration led to the most extensive material ever published on this subject, setting new benchmarks in the study of shell structures,” Gohnert.

He highlighted that "the book includes a chapter on catenary arches and domes. Catenary structures are the most optimal structures known to humankind, and the book contains the most extensively published material on this subject."

A chartered engineer and former head of School, Gohnert said he is extremely proud that the book contains complete mathematical derivation for each shell shape and it is this that differentiates the book from others that have been published on the subject.

The launch was graced by Professor Thokozani Majozi, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, who expressed his appreciation to Gohnert for his contribution. "We are truly privileged to have someone of your caliber in our School, covering such an essential niche in the field of engineering and architecture," said Majozi.

Among the guest speakers was Professor Ian Jandrell, DVC: Systems and Operations, Professor Geoffrey Simate, Assistant Dean: Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Professor Mike Otieno, Head: School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, industry representatives, and students who shared warm accounts of their interaction with Gohnert during their studies.

The potential impact of the book on the architectural engineering and society at large is immense. Given that shell structures reduce stress by as much as 90%, they can "enable us to build stronger structures economically, capable of withstanding the adverse effects of climate change. The book's insights pave the way for constructing affordable housing for the underprivileged, benefiting both individuals and governments alike. Structures can now be designed with greater economy and strength, surpassing our current imagination. The theories presented in the book have the potential to redefine engineering education and design practices," said Gohnert.