The colorful outdoor shells frame the entrance to the famous Tropicana Nightclub in Havana, Cuba. Eight barrel vaults cover a glamorous mirrored walkway that has hosted celebrities such as Nat King Cole, Rita Montaner, and Bola de Nieve.

  • Location: 72.A, La Habana, Cuba
  • Architect: Max Borges, Jr.
  • Owner: Republic of Cuba
  • Built: 1951-1956
  • Arch span: 5 m (16 ft 5 in)
  • Shell thickness: 13 cm (5 in)
  • Structural system: Barrel vaults
  • Construction material: Reinforced concrete and steel

The main structural system of the entrance canopy at the Tropicana Nightclub is barrel vault. A barrel vault is made of a cylindrical slice that efficiently bears compressive loads. The weight of the shell and other applied loads (natural debris, maintenance workers, rain, etc.) flow from the top of the vault down to the beam connections between the shells and through columns and tension ties into the ground foundations. The efficiency of the barrel vault reduces bending stresses allowing for elegant thin shells.

The applied forces are transferred by the barrel vaults to the beams at each shell intersection. The beams then transfer loads to the columns, tension ties (not shown), and supporting wall, which in turn bring the loads to the ground foundations.


Each shell intersection has a unique support system consisting of columns, tension ties, and the rear wall. The four systems shown above are representative of the canopy’s beam systems. Loads are transferred through compressive forces in the columns and wall, as well as tensile forces in the steel ties, to support the entryway.

Student authors of project:
Rachel Marek
Anna Blyth
Lindsey Conlan