Art and Engineering: testing he boundaries of the physical world: allowing large deformations

Structural engineers envision, design, and construct the bridges and long‐span buildings people depend on daily. Traditionally, the structural engineer’s approach has been to control and limit the stress levels, deflections, and natural frequency in structural systems. While the structural engineering discipline rarely challenges this dogma of limitation and control, this is a fundamental question in art. Many artifacts show that testing the boundaries of the physical world is an inherent part of a successful artwork.  Drawing inspiration from the large deformations achieved in the Pore rubber dance/sculpture installations (Miami Art Basel, Martha Friedman, 2015), our research showed in several lines of inquiry how allowing excessive deformations can also benefit the structural performance of flexible structural system [1,2].

Large deforming rubber sheet in Pore sculpture (Martha Friedman, Miami, 2015)

For instance, we investigated how polyester rope, a product of local home‐spun industries, can be an alternative to steel cable in suspended footbridges because of its low weight, low cost, low creep rate, and durability.

The only existing largely-deforming polyester rope suspended bridge (Ait‐Bayoud, Morocco, 2016 image credit: Engineers Without Borders Columbia University)

However, polyester’s low material stiffness – its Young’s modulus is 70 times smaller than that of steel – results in large static bridge deformations and increased walking slopes. We found that when relaxing traditional bridge deflection limits, the polyester rope’s low stiffness leads to large deflections that give rise to a nonlinear increase in the bridge’s geometric stiffness and, beneficially, leads to high levels of safety against overloading.  This overload capacity has great potential for bridges in the context of resource-constrained environments where larger walking slopes are acceptable.

We established its static and dynamic behavior of the Ait-Bayoud bridge and performed our physical testing on it. (image credit: Ted Segal)

In the future, the Form Finding Lab will continue to envision and develop structural systems by drawing on approaches and phenomena found in art, craft, and nature. This line of scholarship is aligned with the STEAM vision (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). In this context, we would like to bring the following Symposium to your attention: “Living at the Intersection” (April 12-13, 2018 on the Princeton University campus). It will engage participants in the exploration of “living at the intersection” of engineering and the arts with thought leaders, researchers, artists, faculty, students, and professionals who create at or near this intersection. More about this symposium later.

[1] E. Segal, L. Rhode-Barbarigos, S. Adriaenssens and R. Filomeno Coelho, ‘Multi-objective optimization of polyester-rope and steel-rope suspended footbridges’, Engineering Structures, vol. 99, pp. 559-567, doi:10.1016/j.engstruct.2015.05.024, 2015.

[2] E. Segal, L. Rhode-Barbarigos, R. Coelho, and S. Adriaenssens, ‘An Automated Robust Design Methodology for Suspended Structures’, Journal of the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures, vol. 56, pp. 221-229, no.4, 2015.




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