Hyper About Hypars


Meet one of my favorite shapes, the hyperbolic paraboloid, also known as a hypar. It is shaped like a saddle and therefore is also sometimes referred to as a saddle surface. A perfect common example would be a Pringle's potato chip. In architecture, hyperbolic paraboloid geometry can be used to create a saddle roof. The hypar has been used a great deal in 19th and 20th century architecture, from Gaudi to Gehry.

There are a couple of examples of hypars here in Sacramento, but probably the most easily recognized hypars in town are located at the entrance of the Sacramento Zoo. The Zoo is located about 2.5 miles up the street from our Eichler Homes neighborhood. This is what the structures originally looked like:

I've researched these structures and discovered that they were designed by Rickey + Brooks, the same firm who designed our house. Rickey + Brooks were also involved in the making of Fairytale Town and also designed the William Land Golf clubhouse.

I've put together a Flickr gallery of hyperbolic paraboloid structures which include other Sacramento examples as well as Albert Frey's Palm Springs Tramway Gas Station, the Catalano House, and other architecturally significant MCM buildings. I've included examples of hypars on native buildings from Indonesia and Sulawesi (Toba Batak and Tongkonan), which strike me particularly as being similar to the Zoo structures.

Some of these structures, such as the Catalano House, have fallen victim to demolition. Per Joe Kunkel, who tried to save the Catalano House:
One by one, our country is losing its wonderful mid-20th century architectural designs, one after another, victims of a blind and unattentive public. A few get saved and preserved as monuments, like the Farnsworth House or the Kaufmann House or Fallingwater. But the vast majority get bulldozed and replaced with McMansions and parking lots. I cannot understand how or why this happens. But it does. Repeatedly.
Hyperbolic paraboloids from the mid-20th century in Sacramento are a rare and dying breed. Other remaining examples include a couple of surviving Orbit gas stations and Country Club Lanes.

I hope there is enough interest in the Sacramento region to preserve and maintain our historic Mid-Century Modern architecture, including the Zoo entrance hypars. They have been there for 50 years and are a landmark. As such, they are part of our collective memory and provide a distinct sense of place. They harken back to structures of distant lands and tribes and serve as a reminder that the animals also come from unique and far away places.


Dane Henas said...

It kind reminds me of a mother hippo with two babies--very appropriate for a zoo entrance. I really hope they come to their senses. The drawings I've seen of the proposed entrance, which would require destroying the "hypars", are very dated already and look like every other big city zoo. Architects and planners are so predictable at times... They should restore the structures and even play up the MCM aspect to tie into Fairy Tale Town across the street. The style is actually proving to be pretty timeless.

Gretchen said...

Agreed, Dane! I think the Zoo hypars have fallen victim to the unsympathetic and dissonant construction clustered around them. I would like to see the Zoo entrance re-incorporate the structures in a meaningful way. What's dated-looking around the entrance is the quasi-safari stuff. Hyperbolic paraboloids are still being built all the time - using both tensile structures and concrete.