Material Performance: Composite Morphology & Fibrous Tectonics

A new understanding of the material in architecture is beginning to arise. No longer are we bound to conceive of the digital realm as separated from the physical world. Instead we can begin to explore computation as an intense interface to material and vice versa. Thus materiality no longer remains a fixed property and passive receptor of form, but it transforms into an active generator of design and an adaptive agent of architectural performance. Accordingly, and in contrast to linear and mechanistic modes of fabrication and construction, materialization now begins to coexist with design as explorative robotic processes. This presents a radical departure from both the trite modernist truth to materials and the dismissal of material altogether as emblematic for the previous generation of digital architecture.

 
 

Research Focus:
Achieving structural equilibrium in a system through the process of incremental form finding and material computation generated by the interaction between fibers and an elastic scaffold.

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Phase One Models: research fiber-scaffold interaction

Elasticity of the scaffold allowed for the overall form to morph into equilibrium state since the tension of the each individual fiber got equalized due to opposing forces acquired through reaction  of scaffold material. The scaffold would start out as a closed two dimensional loop and transit into a three dimensional shape with the use of what we called structural fibers attached to it. Pre-tensioned structural fibers would introduce pre-stress into a scaffold and pose as a support for the following fibers layered according to the attributes we assume in a material test (more rigid perimeter, apertures, homogeneous surface, heterogeneous surface...). After the fiber laying process is done some fibers may not be in full tension, and that is when we remove the structural fiber, release the elastic stress stored in the scaffold which works against all the fibers and brings the whole structure into equal tension. There are no anchor points making fibers free to move around a scaffold and find optimal position. 

 

While examining one of the doubly curved series models, which was a part of our minimal surface material experiments (taking from minimal surfaces as they are geometrical shapes that tend distribute the forces progressively) we discovered that these shapes and the fiber within them have a possibility of several states of equilibrium.

It was possible to twist a doubly curved shape into a new doubly curved shape without a structural failure of the model. It was a bistabile tensile structure. Interestingly, even when we expanded on the initial shape by linking two forms together, scaling them by adding an expansion surface resulting systems had same morphing qualities. 

Phase Two: Study of the minimal surfaces
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Phase three: Remapping the force along individual scaffold members

In order to gain more control over a developing tectonic system we decided to control the shape of the scaffold not just by pre-stressing it and letting the material properties to determine the shape, but to control the shape of each individual member, design the way the member would react. Pre-programming the member would pre-program the whole system, and by mapping the forces in each element we would tune the equilibrium in the whole system. We learned how to pre-program a member by observing Frei Otto’s movable mast and later by multiplying the number of elastic elements in some sections of the scaffold in order to control the distribution of forces occurring while finalizing scaffold shape. 

The research continued to look at the phenomenon of bistability and used the non tractile properties of composite fibers to create a structure that even when resined and cured allows for the movement of the structure. We created fibrous composite systems  capable of maintaining structural properties even through the process of form shifting. It is a unique property of fibrous systems since interaction of individual fiber allows for the system remain both flexible and structural. Usual when there is movement in a structural system it comes from a joint not from the member or a surface. Here the whole system adopts to change. Point to point connection between each member allows for movability of the system while the changing the fiber layer algorithm controls the speed of state change, reflex closing, moldability and so forth...By proposing implementation of a scaffold within the final fibrous morphology and not discarding it when the fibers harden we tackled some of the problems stalling a creation of a fibrous system and uncovered new behaviour that can potentially have an interesting use when combined with an  actuation system which would result in an adaptable multi purpose structural membrane.

 
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Project Information:

Harvard GSD Fall 2014 Option Studio | Prof. AA Dipl.(Hons) Achim Menges
Design Team: Niccolò Dambrosio, Stefan Stanojevic, Ping Lu

 
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When given the task of creating a fibrous structure an exploration started focused on closely observing the two elements that compose such structural system. A highly engineered rigid scaffold and a stringed resin-coated fiber precisely layered across it. The resulting object of such tectonic process is usually a light structural form capable of governing surrounding space with a thin layer of material. Looking back we observed tensile membrane structures as a historical predecessors of fibrous morphologies we would be researching. Even though the tensioned thin membranes seem to effortlessly envelope large areas with minimal use of material, in order for that light form to sustain a large supporting structure is necessary. Commonly consisting of vast iron masts, tensioned metal cables and ample concrete ground anchors which are needed to support that light shape since the forces required to stretch the surface across are immense. Subsequently, the research looked into the membrane experiments and the manner they deal with inherit forces embedded within a membrane system. 

Lead by the initial case study research. The following studio research hypothesized on achieving structural equilibrium in a fibrous system through the process of incremental form finding and material computation generated by the interaction between fibers and an elastic scaffold. The aim was to allow for the materials used to construct the elements of a composite structure to reach their stable state relying on inherent qualities of the materials themselves. Thus, an exploratory matrix was created in order to direct future material tests. It was constructed by varying several qualities regarding a scaffold since the behavior of fibers and the necessity of fiber to fiber interaction for giving structural properties to tensile members were a constant. 

First attribute considered was the reaction of scaffolds to the tension forces created during the weaving process. Rigid, the one that maintains the shape while resist the forces of fibers with its stiffness and an elastic, which accommodates those forces and bends in order to absorb them. Secondly, passive referring to ones reaching the final shape through interaction with fibers and active ones that reach the final shape after additional (usually actuated) force is introduced into the system. Also, looking at linear members as the most common scaffold type because they allow for the freedom in fiber laying process and surface scaffolds as a potential of including them into a fibrous system and not to be just a dispensable support for fibers, but take one space making purpose as well. Through series of models various combinations and hybrids instances were tested in order to asses the most optimal behavior that will result in a structural shape. 

A new understanding of the material in architecture is beginning to arise. No longer are we bound to conceive of the digital realm as separated from the physical world. Instead we can begin to explore computation as an intense interface to material and vice versa. Thus materiality no longer remains a fixed property and passive receptor of form, but it transforms into an active generator of design and an adaptive agent of architectural performance. Accordingly, and in contrast to linear and mechanistic modes of fabrication and construction, materialization now begins to coexist with design as explorative robotic processes. This presents a radical departure from both the trite modernist truth to materials and the dismissal of material altogether as emblematic for the previous generation of digital architecture.

The studio explores the notion of material performance, its manifold and its deep interrelations with technology, biology and culture as a central field of architectural inquiry. It seeks to trace the emergence of new material cultures within the context of the ever accelerating integrative technologies of design computation and robotic fabrication, with a particular focus on advanced fiber composite materials. Students will be introduced to a design approach that bridges between the cultural as well as technical dimension of fibrous materials in architecture and the rich repertoire of fibrous material organization in nature. Most biological systems are natural fiber composite structures, and their astounding level of performative capacity and material resourcefulness unfolds from morphological differentiation, which is the summary process of each element’s response and adaptation to its specific environment.

Based on an understanding of the micro-scale material make-up, meso-scale material system and macro-scale architecture as reciprocal and instrumental relations, students will investigate biological and technological fibrous systems, experiment hands-on with robotic fiber lay-up and filament winding processes, and pursue the development of fibrous tectonics in architecture as novel spatial, structural and ecological potentials. They will engage with a computational design approach that conceives of materiality and materialization as an active generator of form, space and structure, which enables the uncovering of novel, performative capacities and hitherto unexplored architectural possibilities.