By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. Structural engineers envision, design and construct the bridges and long-span buildings those city dwellers daily depend upon daily. The construction industry is one of most resource-intensive sectors, and yet our urban infrastructure continues to be built in the massive tradition in which strength is pursued through material mass. In contrast, the research at the Form Finding Lab focuses on structural systems that derive their strength from their curved shape, dictated by the flow of forces. As a result, these structures can be extremely thin, cost-effective, and less CO2 intensive, all while reducing and, arguably conveying an esthetic quality.
Master builders throughout history have made significant strides in exploiting forms to enclose three-dimensional (3D) spaces, to provide shelter and protection (e.g. the Pantheon dome, Rome, Italy, 126 AD), or to bridge two-dimensional (2D) voids, such as water and roadways (e.g. the footbridges by Robert Maillart, Toss, Switzerland, 1932). In absence of numerical prediction methods, they resorted to trial and error construction practices or structural theory to establish a good enough structural form (see figure 1).
Evolution of structural form – weight versus year
Today, structural engineers are often excluded from the initial building or bridge design process and only appear in the picture only once when the form has been fixed. Pier Luigi Nervi, structural engineer and designer of the exquisite Little Sports Palace (Rome, Italy, 1958), stated: “Resistance due to form, although the most efficient and the most common type of resistance to be found in nature, has not yet built in our minds those subconscious intuitions which are the basis for our structural schemes and realizations” . I place our scholarship at the Form Finding Lab in this force-modeled form tradition by pioneering novel numerical form finding approaches and unique structural forms. The forms we develop at the Form Finding Lab (eg.15, 16 and 17) are substantially lighter than their predecessors and contemporaries.
 P. Nervi, Costruire Correttamente, Milan: Ulrico Hoepli, 1955.
Author: Sigrid Adriaenssens