Hyperboloid towers were very popular in the end of 19th and the first half of 20th centuries - water towers, powerline anchor towers, sometimes tall radio towers were built using this design. The claimed advantage is using less steel compared to other designs for the same strength.

They are very rarely used nowadays (to such extent that old hyperboloid towers are treated as cultural heritage objects and protected by the state in some countries).

Why did they lose popularity? Is there any inherent defect it the design? Is steel not expensive anymore?

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    $\begingroup$ Very interesting question. It looks from this history that England/Wales stopped building hyperbolic cooling towers in the 1970s : "After the collapse of the towers at Ferrybridge, N Yorkshire, in 1965 a British Standard design was enforced. 375 ft high, it comprised a reinforced concrete hyperbolic shell, diminishing in thickness from 53 cm at the base to 18 cm at the rim, supported on reinforced concrete piloti, and set over a dish-shaped pond 2 m deep ... The last to be built were at Drax, N Yorkshire, in the early 1970s. " list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1414666 $\endgroup$ – dcorking Feb 5 '15 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ My guess would be that although the material costs to build such towers is relatively low, the amount of skilled labor required to fabricate them is relatively high. As labor costs rose with respect to material costs, they became uneconomical. Also, the aesthetic tastes of architects and owners may have shifted away from such designs. $\endgroup$ – Dave Tweed Feb 5 '15 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ I think it might have something to do with advances in material technology as well. Consider that our understanding of how to best alloy and treat steel is relatively recent. The Liberty ships built during WWII had issues with cracking because we simply strengthened as much as possible, which lead to very brittle steel. As we better understand what types of steel to use, we don't need to use the shape of the structure as much as a reinforcing or stabilizing mechanism. Now that we can build 2500 ft tall buildings, 130ft water towers are no problem. $\endgroup$ – Trevor Archibald Feb 5 '15 at 16:47

Meet Vladimir Shukhov, a Russian architect who first developed hyperboloid structures. He was born in 1853, died in 1939, and created over 200 hyperboloid structures in the intervening years. He was the reason hyperboloids gained the popularity that they did. His first design, the first hyperbolic structure ever, was the Shukhov Tower in Polibino, pictured here:

Shukhov Tower in Polibino

Another tower also bears the name of Shukhov, and it achieved great fame, too. Shukhov also built the Adziogol Lighthouse. In total, Shukhov designed and built 200 hyperboloid structures. He died in 1939, which could one reason for the decline in the popularity of hyperboloids. It isn't common for the death of one architect to essentially stop an entire movement (although Gaudí also worked with hyperboloids), but that may have been the case here. Shukhov was the reason hyperboloids were popular in the first place; without him, their popularity died down. Also, part of the reason that Shukhov was interested in hyperboloid structures was that hyperbolic geometry was being developed during the time when he first entered architecture. A Google n-gram for "hyperboloid" shows that the term's usage during the late 19th century was its peak.

As a final note, many hyperboloid structures were built after Shukhov's death, so their decline wasn't that steep.

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  • $\begingroup$ So the actual answer boils down to, "they weren't that popular to begin with"? $\endgroup$ – hazzey Feb 6 '15 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ @hazzey I think so. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Feb 6 '15 at 0:42
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    $\begingroup$ Turns out, a new tower was build in Novosibirsk, Russian Federation recently. It's 30 meters tall, intended to be used as a cell tower. engineering-ru.livejournal.com/147266.html (ALERT! 20 megabytes GIF on the page!) Authors say they had really hard time finding a design company that would compute all the details and so they finally had to design everything themselves. Perhaps that's the reason this design is used so rarely. $\endgroup$ – sharptooth Mar 2 '15 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 I was going to provide a link to Power Station (and other) cooling towers which looked suspiciously like a HT to my brain's eye - but you beat me to it by "quite a few years" :-) $\endgroup$ – Russell McMahon Feb 5 at 11:56

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