There’s a term to describe the roof of one of Lawrence’s most recognizable homes: It’s a double hyperbolic paraboloid. The pitch of this striking mid-century roofline starts high, swooping down and out as if it were fabric being pushed by a breeze. At first glance, it could be likened to an exuberant nun’s habit.
Known as the Dean House—after Donald Dean, a civil engineering professor at the University of Kansas who designed the 1956 home—it sits on a visible corner lot in Lawrence’s Centennial neighborhood not far from KU.
Surrounded by traditional Atomic Era homes, it’s that double hyperbolic paraboloid roof that makes it stand out. It’s a rectangle twisted and pinched in such a way as to create six distinct corners—three resting on supporting piers and three soaring up and out, negating the need for load-bearing walls. Inside, that creates one large space with lots of windows and partition-like walls that, in many instances, don’t reach the ceiling, says current owner Randy Masten.
Masten, his wife Kathie and their son have lived in the home since the early 2000s and consider themselves caretakers of the historic property. “It’s art, really,” Masten says of the light-filled house.
As an engineer, Dean was captivated by paraboloid buildings that were popping up at the time in other parts of the world. He especially liked the idea that the buildings were using less material than traditional structures of approximately the same size, proving them economically advantageous and a good way to meet the 1950s housing demand. But these buildings were made of concrete, and in the United States, that was much too expensive to use. To solve this problem, Dean imagined creating the parabola shape using a wood lattice, successfully creating what is widely believed to be the first of its kind, according to Lawrence Modern, an organization dedicated to preserving and documenting Lawrence’s mid-century architecture.
“Dean estimated two or three carpenters could build a hyperbolic paraboloid roof the size of his house in three or four days using plywood sheets for $1 per square foot,” wrote Tom Harper on Lawrence Modern.
It turned out Dean was right. He enlisted the help of student engineers, and it took approximately three days to build. It was less expensive, around $18,000, and had about two thousand four hundred square feet, half the per-square-foot price of a conventional house at the time, according to the February 1957 issue of Fortune magazine.
Dean and his wife lived in the home until 1960 when they moved to Delaware for a new teaching position. The home has passed through several owners, with a roof replacement in the 1980s being the only major renovation project.