Space Frame Tes t i ng
In the late1950s, Upjohn Pharmaceutical unveiled plans to build a new company headquarters complex in Kalamazoo, Michigan. To accommodate
Upjohn’s request for large, uninterrupted floor space, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) developed a modular structural design. SOM hiredWiss and
Janney Associates to build, instrument, and test a one-tenth scale model of the space frame roof structure.
Based upon the results of the model tests, certain diagonal truss members were strengthened in the final design. However, lingering concerns
with the design prompted the owners to request a full-scale load test on the first space frame module erected in the field. Wiss and Janney
performed this field test, which confirmed the accuracy of the results obtained from the scale model tests. The Upjohn project was especially
significant because it enhanced the credibility of model testing—an innovative analytical technique at the time.
Notes of Interest
• The model was constructed using plastic truss members
glued together. Strain gages were applied to typical and
critical members and wired to a switch box for incremental
measurement during the application of loads.
• Loads were applied to the model using washers hung with
string attached to the panel points along the top chords of
• The scale model testing conducted in Jack Janney’s
basement was one of many “all-nighters”undertaken by
the founders in those early years. An initial miscalculation
of the superimposed loads led to an overload by a factor
of ten and a premature failure of the model. Working
through the night, Jack and Peg Janney and Jack Wiss
hastily rebuilt the model, performed the test with the
proper loads, typed up the report, and hand-delivered
it to the downtown Chicago office of SOM just before
the deadline at 10 a.m. the next morning.
WJE 50 Years