Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Search Challenge (7/15/15): What kinds of buildings are these?

I have to admit that I'm fascinated... 

... by old industrial buildings.  Maybe it's a side-effect of having grown up in Los Angeles, where there were many older buildings from the industries that abounded in south-central LA.  I saw all of these buildings growing up, and now as they begin to fall out of favor or use, I can't help but see them with a bit of nostalgia.  

But despite having grown up with these buildings, I'm not sure I know all that much about them.  Can you help me identify what these typical industrial building types are, and why they have these peculiar shapes? 

I have three different shapes of buildings, and the Challenge for this week is the same for each type: 

1.  What is this kind of building called?  Why does it have this distinctive shape?  

Building Type A:  Here's the building that started it all for me.  I was driving near the docks in Seattle, saw this building, and shot the picture when I paused in traffic.  (It's at 47.5529417,-122.3365972 if that helps.)  

I'm still looking for a better picture, but you see this kind of building everywhere in industrial zones.  They all have the large double curved shapes growing up from the roof.  What ARE those things?  Why do they have such a distinctive and odd shape?  (If I find a better picture, I'll update the post.)  

(You can click on any picture to see it full-size.)  

Building Type B:  You used to see this distinctive shape everywhere.  There are still a bunch of these buildings out there, often repurposed from their original use.  What are these things called? 

For what it's worth, the second building is about 2 km from my house and was reshaped a bit from its original design to become a garage.  (This photo is from a few years ago--it's still exactly the same, only the cars have been updated.)  

Building Type C:  Here's another common industrial building design pattern.  Why would they make the roof like that?  

The bottom picture is the original HP building from many years ago.  This view can't be seen any more, but for years, the building poured light into the night sky of Palo Alto.  I lived about 1 km from this building for a while, and got to know it well.  As with the others, this is a common pattern you see in many places.  Just curious:  Why such an odd roof? 

As always, please let us know HOW you found the answer.  Your path to success is of real interest to all of the readers.  (So don't just tell us "it's this!" -- tell us how you came up with your successful search queries, and what resources you used along the way.)  

Search on! 


  1. The first one and last one have interested me, but I've never found them out. The middle one (rounded building) is called a Quonset Hut. I know that because I read about them in a Stephen King book in High School and had no idea what that was, so I looked it up. I don't even remember the plot or which book, but I remember that part.

  2. Building Type B is called a Quonset Hut. I had learned this at some point and just remembered it. I did a Google search to confirm I was correct. There's a much larger version used as a liquor store about 3 blocks from where I grew up. - That's the the rear of the building, the entrance is at the other end.

    Building Type C is called a saw-tooth roof. The shape of the roof reminded me of a sawtooth audio waveform and I searched for "industrial building sawtooth roof" - a WikiPedia article was one f the first results.. The open windows face away from the equator and let in large amounts of natural light, while the closed slopes facing the equator block direct sunlight. They were used before electric artificial lighting was common to light factories and other large buildings.

  3. 1. Shows a tulip shape heavy industrial ventilator. Continous ventilation but does not allow rain in.

    I knew it was a ventilator for a place generating lots of heat because not too far from where I grew up there a glass factory which had this feature. How it worked I never knew. Til now.

    Tried cropped Image search produced nothing useful. Streetview images provide good pix of this building.

    Searched [industrial roof ventilation] and suggestion suggested adding [heavy] so here I am at

    and their pdf explaining it at

    This building looks as though it was a foundry/steel fabrication plant.

    1. Hello Jon. I did the same, went to Google Maps, move around with Street View and take some screen shots. Then tried searching with those photos. No results. You are right Ardagh is a bottling factory and they look like ventilators. Thanks for the link.

      Jon, I missed your unknown part in your signature.

      Judith Koveleskie, thanks for "Library of Congress collection of prints and photographs" is good to know about that.

  4. The middle one I recognised so won't go into...

    The last was easy keywords - "Factory roof", led me right to Wikipedia's article on "Saw-Tooth Roof" - it's such a common design, the sawtoothed roof it's the tourist sign symbol for industrial museums here! ( It's to let lots of natural light in without having direct sunlight beating down.

    The first was the hardest! I'd never seen them so started with "American Industrial Roof" and various attempts to describe the shape.

    No joy so I had a guess that it was something to do with cooling and searched for "building roof cooling", progressively adding 'industrial' and 'old' because all the hits were throwing up new modern low energy cooling techniques instead. I was flipping back and forth to images and web to look for something similar.

    One of the searches on "building roof cooling industrial curve old" the third hit was a PDF of a study into 'passive cooling' which seems like it might be a key phrase, if my guess about cooling was right and that articles mentioned 'wind catchers' - which weren't exactly what I was looking for but a fascinating diversion!

    Another term which popped up when searching on "passive industrial building cooling" was "stack ventilation" and while a search on that and images showed more angular designs one page which came up was on "Stack ventalation and Bernoullis Principle" and I knew Bernoulli was big on cruved surfaces and accerlation of fluids/gases. ""

    That page has a diagram but still all angles.

    Next search was "passive cooling curved vents" and a diagram which starts to look right in an article about airflow through Mexican greenhouses!

    But if it's that then I can't figure out when the 'horns' on the orginal building are facing each other and just sending the hot air off away from the building.

    Either I'm down a rabbit hole or there's some key term for this that I'm missing...

  5. I did my searching in order of difficulty:

    Type B

    I knew that these buildings were called Quonset huts, so I just searched that term and found multiple confirming sites. They were developed for the military because they were relatively inexpensive to manufacture, easy to ship and assemble, and weather resistant. (5 minutes)

    Type C
    Image search for industrials roofs. Found one that looked like this at
    Found out that it was called an articulated roof. Searched articulated roof found

    I believe that the articulated roof provided natural light. (10 minutes)

    Type A
    With this roof, I did an image search, but came up empty. However, I did find a Library of Congress collection of prints and photographs that is worth knowing about
    searching on roof provided 8,299 hits. Using the gallery view provided easier searching.

    Here I found that the articulated roof was also called a sawtooth roof, so I searched that term and looked at the Wikipedia entry, which had a number of links confirming my idea that this was a way to light the interior.

    However, after 40 minutes of searching for Type C, I don’t have any more time to devote to this. I suspect that it has something to do with noise and/or ventilation, but I could not confirm this. Living in the Pittsburgh area, I have seen this design many times, but don’t know what it is for.

  6. Good day, Dr. Russell, fellow SearchResearchers


    Building 1.

    Search with Google Image plus "industrial curved shaped roofs"

    Curved roof. It is like building B. SHows pros of it.

    [large double curved shapes growing up from the roof] in regular search and Images.

    One image mention name Quonset for building b.

    Roof Shapes Wikipedia.

    How a 19th Century Math Genius Taught Us the Best Way to Hold a Pizza Slice. Gaussian curvature

    Tryin Google Search suggestions:

    [industrial building roof types] in Images.

    Possible names: Monitor and Clerestory

    Like building C. "sawtooth roof"

    Building 2.

    [quonset roof]

    Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age By Julie Decker, Chris Chiei
    Quonset hut, Wikipedia.

    Building 3, Search Google for this image.

    Gives name answer.

    Like building C. "sawtooth roof"

    Saw-tooth roof. Wikipedia.

    [Image building c and "sawtooth roof factory history"]


    1. What is this kind of building called? Why does it have this distinctive shape?

    Building 1
    Still no answer.

    Building 2
    A: Quonset roof. The name comes from their site of first manufacture. Flexible interior. Lots of advantages as curved roof link mentions

    Building 3
    A. Explanation saw-tooth roof
    Sawtooth roof

  7. 2. [quonset hut history]

    Quonset hut from my own knowledge. We had them on campus in the 60's. Here is a dandy pictorial history of its predecessor the Nissen Hut and all you'd ever wanted to know about both of them in one package: Also includes photo of buildings with the interesting skylights featured in Challenge 3.

    Another history is here

    jon tU who liked this historical/contemporary set of CHallenges

  8. Building type A - no firm answer yet, but I believe those are either air vents or exhaustion fan vents. There are several industrial companies headquartered in that building, but still no name for the structure or type of industry!! Glass and mirror company and paper company.

    To get there I googled the coordinates you provided and then narrowed down the building using google maps and street view. I then googled various addresses associated with the building, and from there I was able to get an (not very good) idea of what kinds of companies are headquartered there. Still difficult to find which one specifically uses that structure.

    Building type B - Nissen Huts
    Did a google search for semi-circle building, and from there found and searched Nissen Huts.

    Verified with image search

    Building type C - Sawtooth Roof
    I reverse image searched the first image, which gave me Sawtooth roof. These had the advantage of letting in lots of light in an era before artificial light. Also: The "teeth" are created by the triangular roof trusses which are put up in repetitive sections. These triangular sections are amazingly strong and can carry a great load in addtion to their weight and the weight of the roof decking.

    Using these triangles over and over lowers the roof, saving heat, and introduces a great degree of safety. If something catastrophic like an airplane or meteorite hits one area, the balance of the roof will likely stand.

  9. A)Giving us the geolocation leads us directly to Street View & the address identifies the location owned by Ardagh Glass Inc (part of Ardagh Group of Luxemburg) makers of container type glass.

    Glass manufacturing process (see pdf) used by Ardagh outlining the 5 furnaces & emissions from such an operation. No doubt the furnaces are tied into the ventilation necessary to handle such intensity. Emission controls an obvious concern.


    B) Query [history of the quensot building design] “ U.S. Navy needed a versatile, multi-use building in 1941”

    C) [Image Search] Saw-tooth Roof- Answer found at Yahoo The purpose of this design was cost-savings,lower roof heights & easy to expand upon. But flat roof designs improved so now open space manufacturing is the trend except perhaps agriculture for operations like greenhouses.

    1. Refocused search on Building A Type ie Ardagh Glass manufacturing plant. I had initially focused on the “roof” and realized I needed to query the object on the roof. I queried “heat exhaust system” “heat exchanger” “dual heat exchanger” “heat exhaust system for glass manufacturing plant” & others. One SERP Query [history of heat exhaust ventilation systems "industrial"] gives us lots examples. With more time I might find results related to a system for the glass manufacturing plant. I think the key is to find a heat exhaust/exchange system that can handle 2500F degrees as was mentioned in the pdf I posted earlier.

    2. Thanks, RoseMary. Your query [history of heat exhaust ventilation systems "industrial"] in images gives us link to:
      Choose An Exhaust System and there we see the link to
      Monitor Ridge

      [Monitor Ridge Ventilator] [Monitor ventilators]

      Google Patent: Composite gravity ventilator This invention relates to a composite ventilator construction including the unlikely combination of a ridge ventilator and one half of a monitor ventilator.

      [ridge ventilator] [ridge monitor ventilator]
      Handbook of Building Construction
      By G.A. Hool

  10. After the hint last week, I found this doing an image search for the first building.
    Building C

  11. Building B - Did a search for [ quanset hut ] Google corrected it for me to Quonset Hut.

  12. 1. What is this kind of building called? Why does it have this distinctive shape? ANSWER: This kind of building is an industrial plant in which a very hot process takes place. For instance, before I was a retired engineer I worked inside a BASIC OXYGEN FURNECE Steel Plant and it had a roof feature like that shown in the corresponding picture. This roof feature has, on the top, a ridge static ventilator in order to reduce the temperature increase inside the building using natural ventilation, where the "driving motor" is mainly the "stack effect".

  13. QUESTION 1. What is this kind of building called? Why does it have this distinctive shape?
    ANSWER: It is an industrial building where a very hot process is developped, like a steel plant with furnaces and molten metal for instance. This distinctive shape contains on the top, a "ridge static ventilator" for natural ventilation through the "stack effect". The "stack effect" is the drive motor for this kind of ventilator.

  14. I worked for 31 years at Corning Glassworks, now Corning Inc. We had several glass factories across the US and around the world. Almost every one had the "Type A" roof. It called a Robinson Ventilator. It was located over the hot glass tank and was able to throttle the ventilation and keep rain out.