“The Mighty Dome”: Annual Engineering Ice Arch underway

Tal Norvell/ Sun Star Reporter

Feb. 11, 2014

Every year, engineering students compete to come up with a winning design for the ice arch in the Circle of Flags on lower campus. Feb. 6, 2014. Elika Roohi

Every year, engineering students compete to come up with a winning design for the ice arch in the Circle of Flags on lower campus. Feb. 6, 2014. Elika Roohi

The annual UAF Ice Arch in progress continues the half-century-old tradition, except this year’s design is a little different.

Members of the UAF Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers came up with a unique design this year, which they call “The Mighty Dome.”

“This is probably the most complicated [ice arch] built in the last 10 years,” co-designer Andy Chamberlain said.

“The Mighty Dome”  is centered in the Circle of Flags in front of the Duckering building. The dome’s four 10-foot tall column molds are filled with crushed ice to support a 15-foot in diameter wooden dome on top. The structure is sprayed with water to create an ice layer on top. Each column will be supported by flying buttresses which Chamberlain and co-designer Martin Gray say are inspired by Gothic style architecture. 

Chamberlain said the Mighty Dome should look good as long as it doesn’t cave in when they try to remove the wooden framework, which acts as a mold for the ice.

Gray, a 24-year-old Civil Engineering senior, did the calculations for the design. “We’re not sure how we’re going to get the wood forms out from underneath,” he said. 

The ice might shatter when they attempt to break off the supports but they have a few ideas which will hopefully pan out.

Civil Engineering student Daniel Hjortstorp, a junior, was optimistic about the design. “I think it’s going to turn out great,” he said. “Domes are hard to calculate and predict compared to other structures, but it’s a cool design and we’re happy about it.”

This project represents a final send-off for senior Civil Engineering students who have worked on previous ice arches, Chamberlain said, “Of course, if it caves in that’s not much of a good send-off.”

Just in case the Mighty Dome collapses, project engineer and Civil Engineering student Trip Collier said there’s a plan B. His team would have a “secondary dome formed by rebar put up over the weekend.”

Before Chamberlain and Gray could begin their ice project, they had to compete in a bid against a design proposal from another engineer as a way to simulate a real construction bid.

After winning the design proposal, they competed against each other over how to go about the building process. Chamberlain won, but Gray still agreed to help.

Chamberlain said this competition style began a few years ago and wasn’t used decades back.

Older ice arch designs from the 1980s took a slightly different building approach. Bill Mendenhall, who worked for 37 years as a professor of Civil Engineering on campus, remembers how the structures were usually built back then.

“Most of them had a wooden arch with braces underneath,” Mendenhall said. Water was sprayed on the structure until it froze to satisfaction. “Then they’d pull everything out and hope it stayed put,” he said, chuckling.

Precautions to ensure public safety are always taken by builders.

“When the ice arch looks ready to melt, the builders are forced to knock it down so it doesn’t fall down and hurt somebody,”  Mendenhall said.

The inherent challenges of the UAF Ice Arch building tradition have been overcome almost every year by talented engineers since the late 1960s, according to Mendenhall.

The engineers expect the dome to be finished by Feb. 22, to coincide with National Engineering Week. 

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1 Response

  1. Andrew deValpine says:

    If you are interested in domes, look in to the work of the great Ottoman architect, Sinan. He found a pretty cool way to support a very large dome — the Selimiye — while concealing the buttesses.

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