IASS 2017: Highlights from Hamburg

At the end of September, hundreds of students, university faculty, industry experts, and innovators convened in Hamburg, Germany for the annual International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS) symposium. Apart from the numerous technical presentations, those in attendance were also treated to a series of excellent and inspiring keynote presentations. Check out some of the big picture ideas from the plenary sessions below.

Participants gather at Hafen City University for the IASS 2017 Symposium

Biological Design and Integrative Structure
Prof. Dr.-Ing Jan Knippers
Head of the Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE), University of Stuttgart
Knippers Helbig Advanced Engineering, Germany

After a series of opening exercises, conferral of awards, and recognition of the late Wilfried Krätzig and Klaus Linkwitz, Jan Knippers of Thorsten Helbig Advanced Engineering took the stage to deliver the first keynote address of IASS 2017.

Nature has many lessons for designers. From naturally varying densities in sea urchins to clever arrangements of non-isotropic fibers in lobsters, Dr. Knippers shared some fascinating examples of how nature uses materials in smart ways and how these observations can be applied in practice.

For example, at the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart, Dr. Knipper’s group has been quantitatively studying the Schefflera aboricola (aka the sand dollar), which gave rise to their 2016 Research Pavilion. Other work has focused on understanding how nature arranges fibrous material and how to recreate such patterns using advanced robotic weaving technology.  Check out the video from ITKE about their latest pavilion inspired by silk-producing moths.

Why buildings should start to float, or towards the flying architecture 
Tomás Saraceno
Studio Tomás Saraceno, Berlin, Germany / Argentina 

Architect, artist and scientist Tomás Saraceno came to the symposium to share his curiosity of spiders, giving the audience fascinating insights into their silky constructions and accompanying imagery that could put even the most extreme arachnophobe at ease. After realizing that science has paid too much attention to spiders and not enough to spiderwebs, Tomás began to study webs in detail, developing proprietary techniques to digitally scan their intricate structures in detail and even amassing a museum-quality collection of 500 different types of webs. These pursuits led to a poetic realization that our world is filled with webs: spider webs, cosmic webs, and social webs.

By releasing enough fine silk to sustain lift in air currents (aka “ballooning”), spiders can travel long distances, with some even making it into the jet stream. Inspired by such feats, Tomás started the Aerocene concept, envisioning a future where people can inhabit the skies in lighter-than-air structures supported by solar updrafts. Check out his other projects at his website  tomassaraceno.com.

Building Art Invention
Research and Development of Innovative Materials at the Convergence of Art, Architecture and New Technologies
Prof. Heike Klussmann
School of Architecture, Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture, University of Kassel
Heike Klussmann Studio Berlin, Germany

Architect and artist Heike Klussmann’s works spans various scales, from macro to micro. Together with netzwerkarchitekten, she helped develop the concept behind the Wehrhahn metro line in Dusseldorf, where architecture and art blend seamlessly: a city-scale underground “continuum” punctuated by six unique “cuts” (the stations). At the smaller scales, she develops building materials and technologies that blur the definition of art. For example, Touchcrete  is an electrically conductive concrete that could find applications in lighting control, parking spot management and traffic monitoring. 


Check out her work here: Baukunsterfinden.org Kennwert.com Klussman.org


Engineering the Museum: Structure and Exhibition
Prof. Guy Nordenson
Princeton University, School of Architecture, Princeton, USA
Guy Nordenson and Associates (GNA), New York, USA

Guy Nordenson is a structural engineer and professor at Princeton University. His practice is especially known for its experience in the museum sector. In his IASS keynote, “Structure and Exhibition,” he reflected on past projects and on how engineering and architecture come together to create world-class exhibition spaces. For example, in the Corning Museum of Glass in New York, Guy Nordenson worked with architects at Thomas Phifer and Partners to create a new freestanding addition, the Contemporary Art & Design Wing. GNA’s slender and closely space precast concrete rafters help modulate the direct light from the skylights above, bathing the all-white interior in a gentle glow.

Other museums and exhibitions spaces by GNA include the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC and the New Museum in New York City. See the rest here.


Beyond Lightweight – Building the World of Tomorrow
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr.-Ing. E.h. Dr.-Ing. h.c. Werner Sobek
Head of the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK), University of Stuttgart
Werner Sobek Group, Germany

Dr. Sobek’s public lecture centered around a back of the envelope calculation he did one morning: how much building material would we need per second to provide the growing population with a German living standard? Currently, the average German owns around 490 tons of building material – about half of which is infrastructure – while the world average is only 110 tons. According to his math, we would need 1274 tons per second to provide these people with the German standard.

In light of this calculation, Dr. Sobek, proposes two necessary rules: 1) build for more people, but with less material, and 2), do not use any more fossil fuels. To follow these rules, he predicts we will gravitate towards an all-electric society heavily reliant on prefabrication, recycling, and adaptive structures. He encapsulated these concepts recently in a prefab home currently for sale (the Aktivhaus), and his ultra-thin “smart shell” in Stuttgart that dynamically adjusts its supports to support loads with less material (check out the video below). Finally, just like Jan Knippers before him, he also stressed the importance of learning from nature.


“People Who Need People”
Neil Thomas
Atelier One, UK

Engineer Neil Thomas of Atelier One delivered the final keynote, entitled “People Who Need People.” Presenting his work, he reflected on all his collaborations and the way that people of various backgrounds — architects, artists, musicians, mechanical and environmental engineers — came together to realize some remarkable and inspiring projects.

Thomas opened with some of his work with Mark Fisher, the architect responsible for the dazzling stage designs seen at Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and U2 concerts. Fisher also introduced Thomas to Frederic Opsomer (PRG Projects), a pioneer of lightweight modular LED screen technology. Together, the trio achieved feats of engineering that made giant video screens ubiquitous at concerts worldwide. Thomas also stressed the contributions of artist Dicky Bentley (“what he can’t draw, can’t be drawn), and Andy Edwards (Brilliant Stages), a mechanical engineering genius behind the Rolling Stone’s Bridges to Babylon and Take That’s giant “Om Man.”

Thomas then shared his many artistic collaborations, implying that the art’s success hinged on making the engineering aspects seem effortless. For example, working with artist Adam Scott and wind expert Doug Greenwell, they created a kinetic sculpture inspired by dune grass. Amazingly, these giant grasses freely oscillate at low wind speeds, but come to a rest when the wind start to pose a structural threat. Thomas’s other collaborators include artists such as Anish Kapoor, Marc Quinn, and Rachel Whiteread:

Thomas ended his talk with a focus on sustainability and the environment, showing work done in Bali with bamboo-genius John Hardy (such as Sharma Springs, Three Mountains, and the Green School), as well as projects with Patrick Bellew (Atelier Ten). Bellew was instrumental in the award-winning “Gardens by the Bay” in Singapore (Grant Associates & Wilkinson Eyre Architects) as as well as the net-zero carbon Kroon Hall at Yale University (Hopkins Architects).





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