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crumb trail: Home >> Whistle Online >> Archives >> Apr. 19, 2004

Doctoral student weighs the cost, structure of a famous ship


Tyler Burns
College of Architecture

Jose F. Solis, a doctoral candidate in the College of Architecture, novice shipbuilder and designer, pondered this question: Will it float or not? His assignment as part of his qualifying written final exam was to build a model of Noah’s ark.

This meant producing the necessary elements, including drawings, dimensions, assumptions, specifications for materials, a construction contract for work, an estimate and a final bid price. A wooden ship of this size that met all physical laws was uncharted territory, yet his allotted time was forty hours.

On orders from advisor Linda Thomas-Mobley, Solis was to package these documents for a theoretical presentation to Noah, explaining why he should choose Solis’ company for the job of building the ark.

Solis’ task was to determine whether or not a ship of this magnitude was capable of floating and how that ship would be designed. The only way it would succeed, according to Solis, was if both internal and external pressures and forces were counter-balanced with trusses.

To create a three-story vessel with trusses, Solis calculated both the dead and live weight of the ship. He researched the types of materials that were available worldwide during Noah’s time and made an initial dead weight calculation of 3,676 tons. He calculated the live load of all the animals, food and storage, along with the residential portion of the ark, to be 4,560 tons, which was based on his assumption of the length of time Noah and the animals would be on the ark. The total load of both the dead and live weight was estimated to be 9,000 tons.

Solis then calculated the maximum and minimum amounts of water needed on the ark, designing a drainage system that used rainwater to fill up troughs and tanks scattered throughout the ark. His research concluded the total weight of the water, in addition to the containers, was 4,000 tons.

  Solis's model of Noah's ark

A challege of biblical proportions, Jose Solis was charged with selling Noah on a workable design for rescuing animals from a great flood. Above, a model of the ark.

The total displacement of the ark was 13,000 tons, which resulted in having the water line at 12 feet and thus capable of floating. Solis calculated a total displacement of 18,088 tons as the maximum worst case scenario and concluded that the point at which the ark would float would be 15.3 feet, 2.7 feet below his calculated sink or float mark of 18 feet.

After verifying that the ark would indeed float, Solis set out to design and estimate the amount of materials needed to construct the ark. His design placed the ark at 99,150 square feet. Solis went to a local hardware store and figured the cost of today’s wood and equivalent items needed to build the ark. His estimate for the total cost of the ark in today’s dollar was $165 per square foot, or $16,472,040.

Solis then spent thirty-five straight hours constructing a model that represented his findings. Once the model was done, the appearance differed from those drawings seen in books. “I was interested in how he didn’t take into consideration what people thought the ark looked like,” said Thomas-Mobley. “He took his background and designed an ark that would work, not something you would see out of a children’s book.”

Solis’ rendition of Noah’s ark looked more like a barge than the typical vision most people have of the ark. According to Solis, it could not have been done any other way with the technologies and materials available during that era.

“It was beautiful to see the finished product,” Solis said. “I have done what no one else has done. I have discovered throughout this process that there is no other way the ark could have been constructed without it sinking.” Based on Solis’ findings, Noah would probably agree.



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