StoneMatters: a new future for Palestinian stone

Yousef Anastas is an architect and structural engineer. He holds a Master’s in Architecture from l’Ecole d’architecture de la Ville et des Territories (2011), and a structural engineering Master’s degree from l’Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (2014). He is currently a PhD candidate at Geometrie Structure Architecture (GSA) research lab in Paris. In 2014, he conducted a research at the Form-Finding lab of Princeton University on biomimetic building skins. He was also awarded the 40 under 40 award for young European architects. He is currently leading AAU Anastas’ research department, SCALES – a research laboratory that is consistently enhanced by linking scales that are otherwise opposed.

Recently, Anastas completed a project in Jericho, Palestine where he focused on resistance optimization of stone vaults through advanced stereotomy.

Stone as a construction material in Palestine

Historically, stone has been the most common building material in Palestine. It is abundant, and its use in construction was in fact mandated by the Ottomans in order to unify the landscape. As a result, the stone is not only a marker of the transition of urban and social structures, but also shows the evolution of Jericho’s morphology. The construction techniques’ evolution thus had an effect on the entirety of the Palestinian city.


Palestine suffers of a misuse of stone as a structural material: while it was an abundant material used for structural purposes in the past, it is now used as a cladding material only and the know-how of stone building is disappearing.

The research aims at including stone stereotomy – the processes of cutting stones – construction processes in contemporary architecture. It relies on novel computational simulation and fabrication techniques in order to present a modern stone construction technique as part of a local and global architectural language.

Our research department – SCALES – and GSA (Geometrie Structure Architecture) lab are leading this research on stone construction techniques. The results of the research will be used to build the el-Atlal artists and writers residency in Jericho. As such, Stonematters is the first module of the residency and the first built vault of our research.

Stonematters is built on an innovative construction principle allowing for unprecedented forms for such structures, born from morphology – the study of the form of objects – and stereotomy. The vault itself covers a surface of 60 m2 and spans 7 meters with a constant depth of 12 cm. The geometry follows the shape of a minimal surface on which geodesic lines are drawn and set the pattern of the interlocking stones. The whole structure is made of 300 mutually supported unique stone pieces.

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1. Top View. 2. Axonometric view

Aside for the technological issues which make Stonematters a unique design, cultural barriers were also encountered; the entire project was built using existing local techniques from the culturally marginal city of Jericho. Processes from several factories were combined so as to employ known methods for new uses. Hence, the research bids at linking construction techniques to urban morphology. It puts a non-hierarchical hypothetical link between the scale of stereotomy and the scale of urban fabric. In that context, the idea is to suggest new urban morphologies linked to the scientific use of a largely available material in Palestine.

The Process

Cutting the stone

The geometry of the vault follows the shape of a minimal surface on which geodesic lines are drawn and set the pattern of the interlocking stones. Each stone has 4 inclined interfaces, that allow the assembly of the different stone voussoirs. Based on geometrical parameters as the overall shape, the density of the paving, the inclination of contact surfaces, the size of the voussoirs, and number of voussoirs types, a specific structural criteria can be improved.

Creating formwork

In order to lay out the stones, a series of polystyrene blocks of differing heights were carved to create formwork for the stones.

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Polystyrene blocks are moved into place

These blocks of polystyrene were arranged in the form the vault was to later take shape. These blocks were placed on top of wooden framework, which was later removed with the blocks once the stones had been laid and interlocked.


While the polystyrene blocks were digitally cut using robots, the wooden framework was all constructed by local artisans using traditional methods.

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This image shows the entire formwork system at work: the wooden scaffolding supports the polystyrene blocks which keep the cut stones in place as the vault is being constructed.

Mounting the stones

Stone voussoirs are assembled on the mounted polystyrene blocks. Each stone’s location is defined on the formwork. The mounting started from the upper center of the vault progressively advanced towards the edges in a concentric process. The inclined interfaces between the stone voussoirs generate the interlocking system of the structure.

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Finished Product

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The el-Atlal structure is a model of the concept, which envisions a new construction method. The model allows for new morphologies, construction techniques and uses for a widely available construction material. The project has the ambition of creating a mode of urbanism; one whose scales are profoundly associated, one whose technique and durability leaves a trace on the city’s evolution and on the Palestinian landscape.

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The design for the el-Atlal consisting of twelve interconnected vaults using the Stonematters construction technique


Author: Yousef Anastas

Editor: Emre Robe

Water, Wood and Temperature: Hygroscopy at its best

When the relative humidity in the air increases, wood increases in volume as the water molecules become suspended between the wood cellulose fiber molecules.  In wooden laminates made of different wood species, grain orientations or thicknesses, this phenomenon can cause  fascinating shape shifting forms as the different wood layers start interacting.

The goal of final project of  course CEE546 “Form Finding of Structural Surfaces”  was to tailor the hygroscopic behavior of wood for the design and construction of a shape-shifting façade panel. Such a panel could be incorporated in an adaptive building skin.The purpose of adaptive building skins is to actively moderate the influence of weather conditions on the building’s interior environment. Current adaptive skins rely on rigid body motions, complex hinges and actuation devices. These attributes are obstacles to their broader adoption in low-carbon buildings. This project explored these challenges and solutions. The core idea of hyrgoscopic adaptive skins is that they exploit the inherent swelling and shrinking wood properties to change their shape and respond to external weather conditions of changing humidity and temperature.

A number of  projects, physically and numerically developed and prototyped by teams of graduate engineers and architects in the Spring of 2017, are presented here.

Project 1: The aim of the project was to understand the behavior of a tri-layer adaptive wood facade subject to different configurations of the active and resistive layers. We performed both numerical and physical experiments to achieve the same and the results from both were compared for validation. Understanding the behavior in different configurations will help us use the optimum one for specific purposes. (Ryan Roark, Vivek Kumar, Emma Bonintende and Andrew Percival)



Project 2: The motivation of “The Wave” was to create a shape-shifting hygroscopic panel without the use of outside actuators that would be able to respond naturally to weather events, providing appropriate ventilation and lighting while presenting the ebb and flow of an ocean wave. The goal of the sliding panel was to create waving openings during sunny dry weather but to flatten closed during rainy or humid days (Peter Wang,  Laura Salazar, Jedy Lau and Myles McCaulay)




Project 3: The goal of our project was to create a shape shifting façade which opens and closes as if it were a flower. Given diamond shaped flower units, the types of wood, and the thickness of both the active and passive layers, we optimized the height of the triangular petals and the grain orientations of both the active and passive layers of façade to ensure the flower petals not only meet in the center but also maintain reasonable stress levels. ( Ivy Feng, Doris Avit, Andrew Rock)




Project 4: The facade system is conceived as a temperature moderating outer skin that provides shade and ventilation for a building or public space in a hot, arid climate. Utilizing the shape-shifting properties of wood veneer, the facade panels curve when exposed to moisture and relax when dried. The project reconsiders the dynamic facade as a system that functions through an inherent material intelligence rather than a mechanized assembly. The project further considers the possibility of utilizing vegetation or man-made water features in concert with with diurnal temperature changes to provide the necessary humidity to allow the facade to open and close through the course of a day and adapt seasonally to variations in weather and solar gain. (Veronica Boyce, John Cooper and Devin Dobrowolski)

Wood Sample Matrix



Project 5: We used this project to explore the effects geometry and grain orientation had on the hygroscopic properties of wood. We tested different ratios of triangle shapes and either parallel or perpendicular grain orientation between two layers of wood and compared the stresses and deformed shapes to optimize the shape. (Annie Levine, Sean Rucewicz)



This project was made possible through the William Pierson Field Fund and the  Bartlett Funding  with the collaboration of Prof. Gabriele and Luigi Olivieri (Roma Tre University, Italy) and Prof. Abdelmohsen and Rana Ahmed Bahaa (American University of Cairo).

What I am thinking: bio-inspired engineer and artist Bill Washabaugh

Bill Washabaugh is an artist, aerospace engineer, roboticist, designer, and maker. Bill is the founder of Hypersonic Engineering & Design, a firm in NYC working at the intersection of technology and art. He has designed flight control software for Boeing, music instruments for Bjork, and a massive stage show for U2. Trained as an Aerospace and Mechanical Engineer, he pushes the boundaries of the art of engineering through an impressive variety of projects.


Sigrid Adriaenssens: Why and how do you study processes and patterns in nature?

Nature, or natural selection, has figured out so many incredible design solutions that work so well.  It’s our best resource for finding out what works well, and lasts a long time.   I think we’re predisposed, by way of our co-evolution in/with the natural surroundings, to find natural forms as beautiful.  The fact that we’ve been able to use science and math to put logical relationships to these beautiful forms is magic to me.  The diversity of ways in which nature takes form – at the macro, micro, scientific, and mathematical– makes for a pretty endless diversity of study.  How we study it is somewhat haphazard: it’s just through random inquiry, talking with colleagues, reading, and keeping our senses open to surprise and ready for inquiry.

In your design approach, you emphasize interaction, beauty and movement. Why is that important to you and to society?

Our work is really about people.  That’s a critical point in our process.  How does a piece make the viewer feel, how does it pull them, what might they remember, what’s the viewpoint, what’s the reference, what’s the process?  We are interactive beings, so we like to keep in mind that there is always a give and take, a call and response.  I think the movement of our works lends itself well to that, because it evolves over time and can offer an experience that is changing and at times, unexpected.  I think it’s important to pull people in with something beautiful, and try to inspire them to wonder about what they’re seeing, and ask them to investigate that and learn something new.

What is the importance of making in your work?

All of our works are physical objects, and each one we do is a new process, so making is a huge part of what we do.  Our team believes strongly in the need to escape from the screen in both the design process and final viewing experience.  We do spend a lot of time designing and coding on the computer, but holding and shaping and walking around the form is super important, that’s how it will be experienced. As well, because so many of our works involve complex physical movements, we spend a lot of time putting together physical prototypes to see what works and what doesn’t, and how things actually move in real life.

How do you choose your collaborators?

We’ve got a great group of friends that we often call on.  It’s a very organic process, and changes with each project.   We’re also really lucky to be based out of a studio in Brooklyn that we share with a really diverse and talented set of people.  We’ve got big data scientists, creative coders, costume designers, biologists, and more.   It’s the diversity of expertise and input that often leads to new directions and ideas that are so much fun.

What is your greatest (professional) achievement and why?

Getting to work with an incredible team of good friends every day.

What question do you never are asked and would like to be asked? What would be the answer?

Actually, I think the previous question is probably it.

Plenty more stunning projects by hypersonic can be found on their website,

What to see when visiting Princeton, USA: Guastavino Vaulting

The famous Princeton Reunions are coming up this weekend and many guests will reminisce and celebrate their student years with us .  But few of these guests will know about the Gaustavino vaults hidden between the neo-gothic architecture, typical of our Campus.

Much has been written about how Rafael Guastavino introduced this original Catalan Vaulting technique to the United States of America at the end of the 19th century [1].  The technique goes back to the 14th century in the city of Valencia. The Spanish king Pedro IV encouraged his masons to travel from Madrid to Valencia to learn this new technique to constructs vaults that were “Very profitable, very lightweight, and very low cost work of plaster and brick”[2]. The concept of this construction technique is to interlock tiles with layers of fast-setting mortar to make a thin skin.  Many centuries later the Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino (1842-1908) would bring this technique to North- America.

Figure 1: 1910 Patent for a Guastavino Vault Structure (left) , and Rafael Guastavino (right)

When trying to understand Guastavino’s decision to migrate from Spain to the United States of America, it is important to assess the impact that the socio-economic context of the time had in it. It is important to note that Guastavino was a respected architect in Barcelona. Spain in the 19th century experienced tumultuous period. During these years, the political situation was never stable. The change from the Ancient Regime to the liberalism was not easy. King Alfonso XII ascended to the throne in 1875. He was a popular king and was able to qualify the monarchy again. Being a male was enough to calm down the Carlists, who had been fighting against his mother, Queen Isabel II, for the last 40 years. However, the situation in the country forced many people to emigrate to America. The period between 1882 and 1930 was marked by a deep depression. Around four million Spaniards emigrated to America between 1882 and 1930. Usually, before a period of recession starts, there are some years in which economy stabilizes and does not grow. Guastavino’s family moved before the actual depression started, but they were showing the path to many Spaniards that will move later.

In the United States, the situation was completely the opposite. East coast cities were starting to develop and overpass the European metropolis. Guastavino saw in the new development a great chance to export his technique of tile vaulting. A new era of industrialization was taking place around these cities. The country was being expanded rapidly towards the West Coast as well so, new cities would be created.

One can say that Guastavino made a brave decision when choosing a country with such a different culture and language, which he did not speak at the moment of his arrival, when he could have chosen any other Spanish speaking country such as Argentina or Uruguay where many Spanish emigrants moved to. Guastavino put his career ahead of his personal comfort. He was able to evaluate the different possibilities and choose the most appropriate to develop his job.

For your visit to the Princeton Campus, we have identified no less than three Guastavino Vaults.mapPrinceton

Figure 2: Campus Map showing the location of Gaustavino Vaults

Class of 1879 Gateway

The Class of 1879 Hall was designed by the architect Benjamin Wistar Morris Jr when the President of the University was Mr. Woodrow Wilson, who would become later the President of the United States. Guastavino’s main contribution was the tiling of main arched pathway under the tower. The vaults are built with bricks, and completed with stone ribs to provide stability.


Figure 3: Princeton University Class of 1879 Guastavino Vault

Princeton University Chapel

Princeton University Chapel was built in response to the fire that destroyed the previous Chapel, Marquand Chapel, in 1920. The president of the University at that time was Mr. John Grier Hibbe. The design was based in 14th Century English Gothic style. The University appointed Ralph Adam Cram as the architect for this project, the leading Gothic revival architect of the early 20th Century. The building was completed in 1928 and it costed $2 million, which was a significant amount of money in that time.  Even though the main vault was not designed by the Guastavino Company, some auxiliary vaults, not open to the public, were built by them. The main vault is built, according to the plans, out of cohesive tile. It is reinforced with ribs that meet in the center point of each individual bay. These ribs help the vault to stay stable.


Figure 4: Princeton University Chapel Vaults (image credit Princeton University)

Patton Hall Entrance 

We have little information about the construction history of the Vault in Patton Hall.  The Hall  was first occupied in 1906, so it was built probably between 1900 and 1905. When visiting, one sees the thickness of some tiles and the mortar between two rows of tiles, the typical shape of the Gaustavino Vaultand as well as the arches between the two vaults. This arrangement of arches can also be found in the Boston Public Library, for example. Finally, the artistic pattern in which the tiles are placed is characteristic for the work of  Guastavino.


Figure 5: Azul tiling in a herringbone pattern at Patton Hall.  This pattern can also be found in the Guastavino Vaults at the Grand Central Oyster Bar in NYC.


[1] J. Ochsendorf. Gaustavino vaulting: the art of the structural tile. Princeton Architectural Press, 1st edition, 2010.

[2] P. Araguas. Butlleti de le Reial Academia Catalan de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi, 1998. Extract from “Rey Pedro IV de Aragon a Merino de Zaragoza el 20 Junio de 1382”, from Archivo de la Corona de Aragon.

Author: Lazaro Luis Vallelado

Editor: Sigrid Adriaenssens

Sun, Water and Shapes

“Water is essential for life, health and human dignity” World Health Organization

In a previous post Dream Big: Engineering our world, we showed a video of our students designing and constructing a water supply system in Peru with Engineers without Borders.  In our CEE 546 Form Finding of Structural Surfaces Course, teams of engineering and architecture students were challenged to develop the shape of a membrane so that it channels rainwater into a 2 or more storage shipping containers.  The membrane water harvester is meant to double up as a shading canopy for a small community.

Figure 1: Inverted conoid membranes with interesting seam layout pattern. (project Laura Salazar, Ryan Roark and Annie Levine)

The entire design would preferably be demountable and fit within the container (to be transported and deployed elsewhere). Such a deployable low-cost system, would aid temporary or permanent recovery efforts in disaster struck areas, cut-off clean water supply.

Figure 2: An assymetric membrane conoid configuration with a ring hoop connection at the top of the mast to reduce stresses in the membrane. Sun and rain shading studies for one and a coupled module (project Veronica Boyce, Emma Benintende and Dorit Aviv)

For this project the students experimented with physical form finding techniques using a flexible fabric such as lycra as well as a numerical form finding technique based on the force density method to arrive at and fine tune their shapes.


Figure 3: Spline stressed arch supported membranes with an elegant solution to ensure the stability of the  boundary arches.  Active bent arch spans in the order of 25m and is stabilised from buckling by the pre-stressed membrane. Cross-ventilation envisaged (project Devin Dobrowolski, Andrew Percival and Andrew Rock)

The generated shapes drew upon the 4 archetypal membrane forms: the saddle, the ridge and valley, the conoid and the arch supported membrane system.  The students steered their forms to have sufficient anticlastic curvature for stiffness and rainwater flow.  They also paid attention to appropriate membrane and edge cable pre-stress levels and connection detailing.

Figure 4: Ridge and valley system poses a great challenge to achieve anticlastic curvature in the membrane.  This curvature is achieved here by positioning the supports close together and having a substantial height difference between the low an high points. (project John Cooper and Vivek Kumar)

Figure 5:  A variation on the saddle shape. (project Peter Wang, Miles McCaulay, Jedi Lau and Ji Shi)

Author: Sigrid Adriaenssens


Exhibition: Creativity in Cuban Thin Shell Structures

After the revolution, Fidel Castro ordered the National Art Schools to be built on the site of a country club, a move to enrage wealthy capitalists.  The post-embargo material shortage resulted in the curved thin shell brick shell of the School of Modern Dance, designed by Ricardo Porro.  This shell reflected the sensuality Castro thought to be unique to the Cuban spirit.

School of Modern Dance image credit: Paolo Gasparini

While four other schools were planned, the School of Modern Dance was the only one to come close to completion when Castro pulled funding from the entire project in 1965.  The movie “Unfinished Spaces”  draws attention the restoration movement of this shell.

The shells of the National Ballet School and the National Dramatic Art School are two of the six thin shell project highlighted in the exhibition “Creativity in Cuban Thin Shell Structures”, currently on display in the Friend’s Library at Princeton University.

The National Ballet School by Vittorio Garatti (image credit
Plan view of the National Ballet School image credit images.adsttc

The models presented in this exhibition were made by students in the course CEE 463 A Social and Multi-dimensional Exploration of Structures.  By focusing on the Cuban shell designs (National Ballet School, National Dramatic Art School, Parque Jose Marti Stadium, Nunez-Galvez tomb , Arcos de Cristal and Tropicana entrance Canopy) the students made engineering analyses and examined the socio-political context in which the shells were realised.  In one of our next posts, we will show how that Cuban shell zeitgeist influenced one of the most iconic thin shell structures in the United States of America.

Arcos de Cristal Image credit

Author: Sigrid Adriaenssens

DREAM BIG: Engineering our world

In the next decade, the USA will have to add 250 000 civil engineers to its workforce in addition to replacing those who will retire. However, only 12.2% of the current USA civil engineers are female. These statistics indicate the need to encourage young people, especially from underrepresented groups in civil engineering, to pursue engineering opportunities in their education. I am delighted to see the efforts of the American Society of Civil Engineers to inspire enthusiastic young innovative minds to enter into the profession with their project DREAM BIG.  This movie is narrated by the Academy Award Winning actor Jeff Bridges. In particular I was super excited to see a large number of our female undergrad CEE Princeton students feature in the Dream Big video Water Wishes for those in need (required watching and enjoy :-)).

dream ig.jpg

Author: Sigrid Adriaenssens

Reflecting on the Future of Design at the IABSE conference

On Saturday, April 29, the IABSE Future of Design 2017 conference was held in New York City. The Form Finding Lab was well represented, with Victor Charpentier in the organization, Professor Adriaenssens as a speaker and alumnus Professor Ted Segal (Hofstra University) leading a design workshop. Demi Fang ’17 summarized the main ideas of the speakers and panelists:

The Future of Design NYC conference kicked off with a vibrant set of “10 + 10 Talks,” in which structural engineers paired up with professionals in a field slightly different from their own. Each pair gave a joint presentation on their thoughts on the “future of design.”

Throughout the five presentations and the Q&A that followed, several recurring themes unfolded.

Technology can be leveraged as a tool to enhance, rather than compete with, the creative human process of design.

Glenn Bell (SGH) and Antonio Rodriguez (LERA) began with a presentation titled “Disruptive Influences as Opportunities, Not Threats.” Rodriguez gave a personal anecdote of a mentor who once warned him against entering the engineering field with the argument that computers would soon take over engineers’ work. Rodriguez explained how he has found that some engineering decisions do, and always will, require human judgment. That’s not to say that technology should be considered a competitor; rather, technology can play a key role in enhancing those creative processes that are best executed by humans.

Antonio Rodriguez of LERA on distinguishing the roles of technology and humans in the future of design.

Bell quoted Chris Wise of Expedition Engineering from a talk at the 2015 IStructE conference in Singapore: “Which bits of the engineer’s life are really human and which should we let go to machines?” Many presenters touched on the importance of this distinction, especially with the rise of digital drawing tools that easily allow for technology to “take over” the design process. Rodriguez made the distinction by identifying the processes at which computers do best, such as repetitive tasks and optimum searches. The use of these technologies “free designers to do what they do best: solving human problems.” He went on to conclude that the “future of design depends on how technology is used to enhance people’s skills, facilitate collaboration, and improve relationships.”

This approach was whole-heartedly echoed in the following presentations. Eric Long (SOM) cited Frei Otto’s scientific explorations of soap film as an example of how “technology inspires design.” As a firsthand example, he cited SOM’s partnership with Altair in topology optimization; fittingly, his presentation partner was Luca Frattari of Altair, who emphasized the fundamental role of these technologies as tools, or “a complicated pencil.” Sigrid Adriaenssens (Princeton University) presented some of her engineering projects such as Dutch Maritime Museum courtyard roof and the Verviers Passerelle from her practicing days in the Belgian structural engineering firm Ney and Partners. With a nod to David Billington’s principles on structural art, she used these examples to note how “using optimization tools efficiently can allow for efficient, economic, and elegant systems.” Her presentation partner, Bill Washabaugh (Hypersonic), also shared stunning sculptures that utilized engineering technology to not overshadow but recreate motions of nature, such as the rippling reflection of a tree over water, the murmuring of a sea anemone, or the flight of a flock of birds.

With increased levels of collaboration in the design process, broadness and diversity in education can help prepare engineers well for future challenges.

Bell pointed out that the drive towards resource efficiency and sustainability has led to the necessity of interdisciplinary collaboration in the design process. He described his perception of the structural engineer as a T-section, with the “flange representing a broadness in education, and the stem representing a fundamental expertise in structures.” As one of the few educators presenting, Adriaenssens answered one of the last questions squeezed into the end of the Q&A session: what educational approaches should be taken to prepare the next generation for the future challenges of design, which differ greatly to the challenges of the older generation? Adriaenssens shared her conviction in bringing students with different backgrounds into the field of engineering in order to supply a diverse workforce to face these interdisciplinary challenges. “Many of the students I advise are excellent in other fields – they are superb athletes, musicians, or dancers. Asking an 18-year-old to focus on one particular field limits their potential.” She mentions courses at Princeton that bridge engineering with other fields such as the arts, explaining that “aside from the traditional engineering courses, we also need courses that focus on interdisciplinary training,” supporting Bell’s previous statements.

Bill Washabaugh (left) and Sigrid Adriaenssens present their projects that utilize technology as an advanced tool for imitating and perpetuating the systems and aesthetics of nature.

Guy Nordenson (Princeton University) reinforced his colleague’s comments with statements on a more specific type of diversity: “I think Sigrid is a manifestation of where we’ve come and where we’re going,” not just with her more creative and innovative approach to engineering, but also her presence as a female in the field. “Looking out at the audience, it’s great to see that there are a lot more women in the field than when Glenn and I were students. We can do a lot to improve diversity in education starting as early as high school.” Continue reading “Reflecting on the Future of Design at the IABSE conference”

HIGROW – Hygroscopic proprieties of wood used as programmable matter in lightweight construction

Luigi Olivieri, who is visiting the Form Finding Lab this week from the University of Tre (Rome, Italy) with Professor Stefano Gabriele, presents his master’s thesis work:

The project explores the possibilities of using the hygroscopic proprieties of wood as a programmable material. The aim of the research is to explore the possibilities of a temporary structure through a new method of design by studying a shell through the physical behavior of its construction material: wood. The design process is driven by a set of physical tests on the material to come up with an idea for a new pavilion.

View of the exterior space of MAXXI, High humidity – open condition, Rome. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
View of the exterior space of MAXXI, Low humidity – close condition, Rome. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
The process is divided in two parts, a local and global one. The local part concerns the fabrication process of the structure assembling the local parts taking in consideration the proprieties of wood. The second -global- part concerns the morphology of the pavilion according to the constructive biomimetic principles of a seashell.

Diagram of the design space. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Biomimetic implies the consciousness of understanding natural structures and their process through principles that can be adapted to procedure and technology in the design process. The genome of the project is given by a code that can be adapted to different contexts and through parameters that can acquire multiple variations.

From the study of the seashell, four main principles arise that bring stiffness to the overall shape. The form of seashells is curved in two directions, stiffening the body and distributing the weight efficiently. The distortion of the line in the shell furthermore modifies the distribution of the forces, preventing the shell from breaking.

Experimenting with paper models gives the possibilities to observe how the crease activated by a kinematic movement augments the resistance of a simple sheet of paper.  Transferring the physical system of folding paper into a digital environment, the range expands drastically by using a code that simulates the act of folding.

Study model of paper folding experiment. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
By changing the shape of the folding, the result is different every time which allows to create a catalog. The result of this catalog also brings to light the possibilities of using these modules as a self-supporting structure and the ability to develop the surface in a planar sheet.

Diagram for fabrication of modules with positive and negative Gaussian curvature. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]

The system is already self-supporting, but by adding additional force and bending in the modules, the stiffness increases exponentially. Using the biomimetic principle, behavior similar to that of a pine cone is observed: due to humidity changes an automatic mechanism is triggered generating movement.

The fabrication of the morphological system demonstrates that such a system prototype is feasible. Simple tests inside a humidified control room show that it is indeed possible to measure the curvature of different samples at different percentages of humidity.

The developed fabrication process uses a simple mechanism of absorption and resistance of forces thanks to a special bilayer of plywood. The lamination process takes into consideration how the fibers are layered in the pinecone petal to activate the kinematic mechanism due to the variation of humidity. The evolution of the test reveals that it is possible to control and reverse this mechanism. A joint is also developed in order to merge the components, to allow flexibility of the structure and to simplify the assembly process.

The functional prototype successfully demonstrated that the kinematic structure is capable of rearranging its microscopic cell organization by adapting its shape to various climatic conditions.

Paper model of the global geometry. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Functional prototype of assembled modules in humidified control room. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
The output of the project is divided in three levels. First, the hygroscopic mechanism of wood cells and how it can be programmed to achieve different results. Second, the joint that allows the modules to connect together and guarantee mechanical strength. Third, the morphology and the architectural function of the shape.

Micro, Meso and Macro structure hierarchy of the system. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]

Author: Luigi Olivier. Edited by Tim Michiels.

[thesis work advised by Stefano Gabriele, Luciano Teresi and Stefano Converso]

Luigi Olivieri is an architect and computational designer. He attended “La Sapienza” University in Rome, Italy where he received his bachelor degree in Architecture and Science of the City. During the course of his Master program at the University of “Roma Tre”, Luigi spent his second year at the University of Stuttgart working at the ITECH Master program for the duration of the entire year. He completed his Master’s in Rome with a presentation on material programming as his final thesis. Luigi moved on to work in different international firms from Tomas Saraceno to Fuksas Architecture and Rimond, participating in projects of different scale.

Luigi is currently interested in emergent technology, computational design, and architectural fabrication. He believes that studying emergent structure and natural principles can help architects find a better way of using technology and material to program efficient structures for the future of tomorrow.

What is the value of critique in structural design?

Practicing chefs in the kitchen can revise and refine a recipe to their own satisfaction, yet their progress need not be limited by their own opinion. What might result from allowing a fellow chef or a mentor to taste their recipe? Each taster might give his/her own personal feedback – too salty, not crisp enough – and the aspiring chef, filtering through the responses, may modify and further improve the recipe to a level otherwise unattainable without outside feedback. We find this occurrence in countless other fields; why else might athletes have coaches, and musicians have private instructors? One may be able to accomplish much through individual work, but a trained eye (or ear) observing from the outside can potentially coax an even better performance out of an individual.

Image credit: arch20

It is no different in design. Some design principles that we espouse to our students (such as constraints as drivers of design, drawing as a means of clarifying thoughts, the usefulness of studying precedents, and the iterative nature of the design process) primarily concern the designer as an individual. However, like the chef or the athlete or the musician, designers can only improve on their own to a certain degree. No matter how experienced the designer, outside feedback can add another dimension of considerations that enhance the design.

In structural design, the feedback of a more experienced engineer can be especially important in verifying the suitability and feasibility of the structure. However, that’s not to say that critique from a less experienced engineer is not useful; anyone who has not labored over the design process already has the advantage of seeing the design with fresh eyes and may perceive problems or solutions with greater ease. The act of critiquing is also a valuable exercise for the aspiring engineer, revealing the opportunity to jump into another’s design process and explore the different design decisions that were or were not made.

We emphasize that critique is an opportunity to improve a design; rather than shy away from a critique that may bash on the flaws in a design, designers would benefit from embracing the critique as a way of learning and improving from both peers and mentors.

The Happy Pontist blog discusses in detail the challenges of critiquing works of structural engineering and how to circumvent them. Read more about them here.