–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’.
–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.
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.
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…