How the Gateway Arch Got Its Shape

The Gateway Arch soars above the City of St. Louis. Eero Sarrinen’s awe-inspiring design is visually stunning, extraordinarily graceful and an architectural masterpiece, but it is also a mathematical marvel.

Have you wondered about the shape of the Gateway Arch?

The preeminent mathematician, Robert Osserman, certainly has and will explain its mathematical mysteries in an Assembly Series lecture, “How the Gateway Arch Got Its Shape” at 4 p.m., Wednesday, March 25, in Steinberg Hall Auditorium. The talk is co-sponsored by the Department of Mathematics.

The Arch is known as a weighted catenary. If your Latin is good, you know that catenary refers to a chain. Why did it take this particular shape? Could it be the most efficient way to equalize pressure of an arch? How does that work? And, just how did the Arch get its shape? Was it a sketch or model made by Saarinen, or perhaps a mathematical equation? There are many questions and many surprising answers.

Osserman earned his doctorate at Harvard University where he worked on geometric function theory and on differential geometry, combining the two in a new global theory of minimal surfaces. He has also worked on the isoperimetric inequality and related geometric questions. He is the author of several books. For information call 314-935-4620.

At 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday the 25th, immediately preceding Osserman’s talk, a brief film, “Monument to the Dream: America’s Gateway Arch, an Engineering Triumph,” by Academy Award winning Charles Guggenheim, will be shown in Steinberg Hall Auditorium.

Note: Osserman’s visit coincides with an exhibition of Eero Saarinen’s work, “Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future,” on view at the University’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum through April 27.