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Objects of Art: Roof of the National Library of Medicine

Location: Building 38

Hyperbolic Paraboloid Roof of the National Library of Medicine

The unusual roof of the Library - what the architects called a "hyperbolic paraboloid" - is a graceful, floating, 3-inch-thick concrete shell of 9,500 square feet. It spans 98 feet and is supported by four steel columns set in a 63-foot square.

The roof covers a structure of five floors (three below ground) of 231,855 square feet. The collection is well protected by thick Indiana limestone walls; in fact the structure was a designated disaster shelter and for a number of years had emergency supplies of drinking water and food.

The building was designed by the architectural firm O'Connor and Kilham of Philadelphia. The contract was awarded for construction in June 1959 and the building was occupied in April 1962.

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Last Reviewed: February 27, 2012