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May '13 - Feb '16

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    Digital Fabrication with Spiders and Carbon Fiber

    Alec Perkins
    Feb 3, '16 9:16 AM EST

    One of my favorite buildings in Stuttgart only exists for a few months. Surprisingly, it is the annual project of the digital fabrication studio at the University. I’m not usually such a fan of digifab- in the US the emphasis seems to be on the digi part and the fab is only a question of cutting shapes out of wood or plastic and bolting them together. Germany is all about the fab.

    Every year, the University of Stuttgart builds a small pavilion for the main campus in the middle of the city. This project is a collaboration between two of the colleges, the Institute for Computational Design and the Institute of Building Structures & Structural Design. What happens is, a bunch of architecture students team up with engineering students, and the group picks either a natural phenomena or biological process which produces form. Then they attempt to replicate the process.

    Germany lives on industrial manufacturing. To them, digital fabrication is not about making a signature entrance to a hotel lobby or a baroque and tortured piece of street furniture, but a means to the future of the industry. As such, the industries support the program and provide the project with some fabrication tools and software which are quite a bit beyond the ol’ five axis cnc mill.

    Last year’s biomimetic inspiration was a certain spider which lives under water. To survive, it spins a web to trap a big air bubble. To replicate this idea, the students inflated a temporary dome to create a form, and on the inside, laminated sheets of ETFE together to make a clear plastic shell. The interior of the dome was then precisely scanned to produce an accurate 3D model. This model was used to guide a robotic arm in the center of the dome which painstakingly laid down down epoxy-coated carbon fiber tape in a latticework of broad arcs across the inside of the ETFE shell. When the epoxy hardened, the inflated exterior structure was simply removed and the hardened carbon fiber lattice supported the entire thing.

    ICD / ITKE has a website explaining the project and a pretty nifty 3 minute video explaining the whole thing here.

    My first thought was “That’s a lot of carbon fiber.” Yes, yes it is. I am guessing that robotically placed carbon fiber is probably not the cheapest material either. But I liked the lightness of the structure, and the surporisingly crazy 'wet-hair' look of the epoxy impregnated carbon fiber gave the pavillion a kind of Art-Nouveau feel when you get down to the details. I have to say that it was not finished all that well. A plywood base with styrofoam underneath to catch the bolted strands of carbon fiber got beat to hell quickly and there were numerous cigarette butt burns in the styrofoam. This is a college campus, after all, and the students always test the pavilion's ability to accomodate hanging out and drinking beer. But no cuts or holes in the ETFE, surprisingly.

    Video from the ICD / ITKE pavilion

    • 1 Comment

    • D-O-P-E!  Thanks for the post Alec

      Feb 13, 16 1:30 am  · 

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Urban and architectural explorations from Mexico City to Stuttgart Germany through the eyes of a iterant architectural designer

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