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Interview with Julian Lienhard, Digital Crafting 5 Seminar

–In your lecture, you discuss “form active structures”, this idea of behavior and integration of performance. Can you elaborate on this?

Form-active structures are the newest category of structural systems where textile or foil materials develop significant structural capacities. Based on the combination of pre-stress and double curvature the membrane material is enabled to not only work as cladding on an existing structure, but to become a leading component of the structural system. This allows a high level of integration and at the same time extremely long spanning and lightweight structures.

Since the shape of such a membrane structure is developed in a physical or digital form-finding process the designer only has limited influence on the resulting surface geometry. It seems like some contemporary architects want to have a more direct influence on the shape, motivated by design ideas or supplementary functions they want to assign to the surface. Sadly this often leads back to the membrane acting merely as a cladding on a significant steel structure… Introducing elastically bent rods in the surface element opens completely new possibilities in the interaction with the form-finding process and at the same time is a new step in integrating the primary structure into the membrane surface. We call such structures that base their geometry on the elastic deformation of initially straight or planar elements ‘Bending-Active’.

Image: Julian Leinhard, Prototype of funnel Membrane with bending-active support system

Image: Julian Leinhard, Form-finding of funnel Membrane with bending-active support system

–We discussed ways of simulating material performance and in your talk, you discussed elastic deformation as a way of giving form in architecture. How does this relate to the ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion and your role doing finite element simulation of the deformations?

In the research Pavilion ICD/ITKE we elaborated the potentials of such bending active structures in a digital design process. We were able to show the great potentials of bending active-structures in creating complex geometry based on planar building components and were also able to prove a stiffening effect based on the bending pre-stress.

Image: Julian Leinhard, Research Pavilion ICD/ITKE 2010, Interior view

Image: Julian Leinhard, Research Pavilion ICD/ITKE 2010, Finite Element form-finding

In other projects we have shown how this approach may also be integrated in form-active structures and even kinematic structures. In all of these projects the aspect of reliable material data (eg. young’s-modulus) and precise finite-element simulation of the bending deformations were the key for a successful realization. The material testing and simulation procedure however is still very time consuming. We are currently working on refining our routines and finding ways of directly integrating the finite element simulation in the design process.

–How do you see material performance simulation giving the designer more feedback for the design process?

In Bending-Active structures the material performance is inseparable from the resulting geometry. Material behavior therefore gives the designer important feed back in this particular approach. As much as this may be stimulating for the design process it also requires a certain commitment to the necessity for extensive simulation. We therefore work a lot with scaled physical models made of the real foreseen material (eg GFRP) for extensive material study and design investigation.

Image: Julian Leinhard, Simulation of elastic kinetic shading system Flectofin®

In Kolding the discussion took a very nice turn at the end where we contemplated the potentials of integrative design approaches; which is one of the greatest potentials of Digital Crafting. It also showed though that the Architects and Engineers’ role in these procedures have to be redefined. On the one hand, we have to broaden the set of skills to foster the close collaboration and communication with each other, on the other hand, we are asked to input a high degree of specialized knowledge. Even though a lot has been said about these new design procedures I still have questions about my role as an engineer within such a community. It was very good to have Jan Soendergaard join our discussion, we need such experienced Architects to give us feedback, a kind of reality check…

Report from Digital Crafting 5 Seminar

Digital Crafting Report from Seminar 5: Textiles and Fibre-based Materials in Architectural Construction

The fifth Digital Crafting Seminar “Textiles and Fibre-based Materials in Architectural Construction” was held at the Design School in Kolding on August 24, 2011.  Four guest speakers: Joy Boutrup from Design School Kolding, Johan Bettum from Städelschule Architecture Class, Julian Lienhard from the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE), University of Stuttgart, Germany and Sean Ahlquist from the Institute for Computational Design at the University of Stuttgart.

Textile engineer Joy Boutrup presented “Scales of Performance, Fibres, Yarns and Textiles” which addressed fundamental research questions relating to material potentials, scale and chemical composition.  Drawing on her background and experience as a textile chemist she is able to precisely research the properties of textile materials. In her lecture she was able to explain in a clear and interesting way, the defining characteristics and potentials of textile material design including variables, stress distributions, .   She illustrated her discussion with intricate models of fibre compositions and types of weave and materials.

Architect and researcher Johan Bettum presented “The Material Geometry of Fibre- Reinforced Polymer Matrix Composites”, a lecture which showed examples of projects by his office ArchiGlobe.  His work explores the architectural potentials of fibre reinforced material systems.

Architect and researcher Sean Ahlquist presented “The Computational Perspective” which gave a theoretical background to computational design relating to ideas of system principles, system behaviour and system simulation.  Also from Stuttgart, structural engineer and researcher Julian Lienhard from the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) presented his research of “Bending Active Membrane Structures” using examples from built projects such as the Madinah Piazza Shading Project.

Three shorter presentation were made by Guenther H Filz, Delia Dumitrescu and Karen Marie Hassling about their current work and its relation to themes in Digital Crafting.

Seminar 5: Videos of presentations online

The presentations of the 5th Digital Crafting Seminar are now online. Please follow the link to the presentations:


Ongoing Work Presentations:

An overview can be found on Vimeo

Seminar 5: Textiles and Fibre Based Materials in Architectural Constructio

Dates: August 2010     11.00 – 16.30
Venue: Designskolen Kolding, Ågade 10, Kolding, 1. Sal i auditorie 1.4


Ongoing Work Presentations:

The seminar examines the use of fibre based materials in architecture. During the last decade textiles and fibre-based materials have undergone dramatic development resulting in their use and implementation in host of new contexts. From the extreme scales of geo-textiles to the minute details of bio-textiles, textiles are entering new fields of fabrication hybridising existing technologies and inventing new.  At the same time, developments in polymers and reinforcing materials are leading to new opportunities for computational design and processing methods for fibre reinforced composites, which in turn provide designers with new means of engagement and control.

This seminar holds a dual focus. Bringing together researchers from architecture, engineering and textile design our aim is to discuss the traditions by which textiles and fibre based materials has been understood as an architectural material as well as present a perspective for their future implementation in the built environment. By deliberately expanding the discussion to include soft/compressive textiles as well as fibre reinforced composites our aim is to foster discussion of the parallels and differences in these two material design led fields.

The seminar asks:
–         The Stuttgart tradition of designing and calculating membrane structures led to a reinvention of the use of textiles in architecture in the mid 20th century. What is the new perspectives in these traditions and how can they embrace questions of complex geometry and material variegation?
–         The recent focus on fibre reinforced composites presents architecture and the built environment with a new engineered material that can be devised and develop in respect to its performance. How can we work efficiently with composites and what are their future implementations?
–         As we enter a new era in which material design becomes part of the architects remit and where materials are engineered directly for their implementation and use, we also enter a new practice of work with complex composites. What are the environmental consequences of these new materials and how can we work in a sustainable fashion?