Architecture, Gustel R. Kiewitt

Gustel R Kiewitt & Lamella Dome Roofs

One of the architects who designed the St. Louis Arena in 1929 (above), Kiewitt, specialized in designing lamella dome roofs. The lamella dome on the Arena building had no supporting structures other than the walls, which is the unique design of the roofs allowing large spaces to be covered without supporting pillars between the walls. Born in Worms, Germany, Kiewitt was educated at the University of Darmstadt and the University of Stuttgart. He came to St. Louis in 1923 and worked as a church architect with George Barnett.

Through his German connections in St. Louis, he was introduced to Edward Faust, son-in-law of Adolphus Busch, and Faust became intrigued with this system. As a result, Kiewit built a gothic arch lamella barn on his property in Chesterfield, which has been restored and is still intact.

In 1926 the Missouri Lamella Roof Company was incorporated, as a licensee of the Lamella Roof Syndicate, with Edward Faust as president. Faust introduced the system to St. Louis architects and engineers in 1925 at a lecture at his home, 1 Portland Place. Many lamella roofs were built in St. Louis, some for commercial ventures such as the Tip-Top Bottling Company and some for school gymnasiums, one of the first being St. Elizabeth Academy on Arsenal Street.

Later Kiewitt was tasked with designing buildings for the National Exhibition Company’s National Dairy Show. Here he used the barrel arch of the lamella roof as the basis for their design, with half-round “broached” ends to form an oval shape over the large arena space. The lamella roof was set on cantilevered steel trusses, which made the clear span 278 feet wide, at that time the largest clear span in the world. There was unobstructed viewing from every seat. It was considered an engineering marvel. The entire roof was completed in 45 days. The roof was damaged in the tornado of 1958; however, it demonstrated one of the system’s advantages, and the wind removed only the north end section. The rest remained sturdily in place.

Due to the little work, Kiewitt was receiving during the depression; he branched out into other types of roof, notably ornamental church trusses making him change his company name to Roof Structures, Inc.

During the early 1940s, Roof Structures built many aircraft hangars and recreational buildings at army bases – both of which the lamella roof was beautifully suited. After 1945 Roof Structures built many school gymnasiums and auditoriums throughout the middle-west, as well as many automobile dealerships’ service buildings. Here at Thomas Jefferson School, architects Bernoudy and Mutrux made good use of the lamella roof in the design of the gymnasium. At the intersection of Manchester and Kirkwood Roads in St. Louis County, one may see a Lamella roof on each of the three corners. A landmark in Webster Groves is Red LaMore Auto Body on Gore Avenue. Almost all of the lamellas were fabricated of Douglas Fir by Rosboro Lumber Company in Oregon, and many were shipped by rail directly to the job site area.

As the demand for larger spans grew in the 1950s, the use of standard steel shapes became more important. As a result, some huge spans were erected around the country, such as the Civic Auditorium in Corpus Christi, Texas (left), the National Orange Show in San Bernardino, CA, and our own Ladue Junior High School. In Italy, P L Nervi experimented with concrete lamellas, one poured-in-place as a folded plate type and one with precast lamellas.

The demand for domed continued in the early fifties. Kiewitt consulted Gustav Mesmer, professor of Mathematics at Wash U. Together, who developed the Lamella dome for Wichita State University in Kansas. Based on this experience, the design was altered and became a series of pie slices, partially for aesthetics and partially for structural considerations. This allowed the variation in the number of slices (the standard was 12). This design was patented by Kiewitt and used for domes in several cities, most notably the Houston Astrodome (below), an engineering sensation with a span of 640 feet. The New Orleans Superdome followed it with an even larger span. Hurricanes have repeatedly tested the structural integrity of these domes.

I know of two houses in Ladue designed by Kiewitt, demonstrating his unique architectural style.

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