Material Behavior 1

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According to the placard outside this church in Davos, Switzerland, seven hundred years ago the builders built the steeple true and straight. Soon after the tower was complete it started twisting clockwise. Why did it twist?  Another blogger jokingly suggested the  Coriolis effect was to blame (think water down a drain and  hurricanes). If that had anything to do with it then all the twisted steeples of Europe  would rotate in the same direction. Apparently not. Theres as much  clockwise rotation as there is counterrclockwise. Another theory is that all these steeples were twisted “by design”, built this way. that’s a tough one to prove, especially since  these steeples have all been rebuilt/restored and the non of their cladding is original.

Apparently the green wood structure as it dryed and shrank , was the culprit behind the rotation of the steeple in Davos, (from the on-site information). Plausible? Without seeing the structure it’s hard to envision.  A pastor in New Jersey speaking of his own church steeple problems suggested another possibility: after a tremendous  wind storm,  the tower had to be replaced, he said, because it had become twisted. The possibility of external wind forces  contributing to the twist is compelling because it allows for clockwise or counterclockwise results while not discounting the internal force resulting from shrinking timbers. Sunflowers are a good example how twisting might be the result of two simple “forces” one internal and the other external. Sunflower seeds grow at a certain rate according to  genetic instructions (internal forces) As they grow they bump into each other and are forced into a twisting geometry (external forces).

The steeple at  L’Eglise du Grand Marchin, Belgium was one of the 40 or twisted steeples of Europe before it was destroyed in a fire. Despite it’s obvious “flaw”, when it came time to rebuild in the same timber technique, a decision was made to match the “flaw”, to transform it into design. A remarkable moment where material behavior is transformed into architectural “language”, the syntax is now purely synthetic, denoting something it is not : a twist formed through time, material, and force. Perhaps this is more proof that the twisted steeples of Europe were never intended to be so.

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