Why civil engineering students should make things

In today’s Member Voices article, my co-instructor and visual artist, Joe Scanlan and I discuss the value of haptic learning for civil engineering students; why learning and working with their hands makes them better civil engineers. The American Society of Civil Engineer’s Future World Vision calls for creative and motivated students to be attracted to the civil engineering profession so that they can bring novel … Continue reading Why civil engineering students should make things

What is the future for shell design and construction?

Last Saturday (16th of January 2021), I had the great fortune of participating in a fascinating panel discussion about what the next trends are for shell design and construction with the structural and math wizard Chris Williams (Chalmers University) and the architectural engineer Philippe Block (ETHZ). The conversation was a bit provocative but actually also very insightful. If you missed it, you are in luck … Continue reading What is the future for shell design and construction?

(On-Line) public speaking

Over the years, the research and teaching at the Form Finding Lab, has been disseminated through a wide range of video and audio material.  I have collected some of it here. TEACHING: What engineering and art students learned in my course co-taught with the artist Joe Scanlan, CEE418/VIS418 Extraordinary Processes ‘Princeton students make their bed’, 2020. RESEARCH: We reached over 6000 participants in our DigitalFUTURES … Continue reading (On-Line) public speaking

Extraordinary Processes: Extraordinary Beds

At Princeton, our students are taking final exams now. In the course that the visual artist Joe Scanlan and I teach, VIS418/CEE418 Extraordinary Processes, students were tasked this semester with designing and building beds that are equally inspired by their creativity and the structural principles of engineering. What you might find interesting is that, for their final exam, the students were required to spend the … Continue reading Extraordinary Processes: Extraordinary Beds

RECAP: IABSE’s Future of Design 2018.

The 2nd annual IABSE Future of Design 2018 conference was held in New York City on Saturday, April 28. With Victor Charpentier as a leading member of the organizing committee, students from the Form Finding Lab were able to attend the event. This year’s conference sought to bring together structural engineers, architects, artists, fabricators, and builders in order to explore new ways of designing, building, … Continue reading RECAP: IABSE’s Future of Design 2018.

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. Biological Design and … Continue reading IASS 2017: Highlights from Hamburg

Reporting from IASS 2017 – Severe Conditions & Disasters

Last week at the IASS the Form Finding Lab was very involved in the session on severe conditions & disasters. The session was chaired by our own Sigrid Adriaenssens and close collaborator Prof. Ruy Marcelo Pauletti from the University of Sao Paulo, and many more collaborators presented their research. The revue of familiar faces started with Eftychia Dichorou from the University of Cambridge. Dichorou presented … Continue reading Reporting from IASS 2017 – Severe Conditions & Disasters

Prof. A’s Tedx Talk: Designing for strength, economy and beauty

  Check out this video and like it on YouTube. 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 depend on 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 … Continue reading Prof. A’s Tedx Talk: Designing for strength, economy and beauty

“Thinking by Modeling”- Frei Otto Exhibition

In November 2016, the ZKM – Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medien – Centre for Arts and Media – in Karlsruhe, Germany, inaugurated its exhibition on the works of Frei Otto entitled “Frei Otto – Thinking by Modeling” (November 05, 2016 – March 12, 2017): an exhibition unprecedented in terms of conception and extent, curated by Prof. Georg Vrachliotis. In the year before, Frei Otto had passed away, while in the same year he had been awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize for architecture. As a result, the attention  of architects, engineers and designers worldwide has been refocused on the  personality, the works and the achievements of Frei Otto. The opening of the exhibition was widely picked up, attracted a lot of visitors and comes along with several “special events”, one of them being a symposium which will be held on January 26-27, 2017.

© ZKM Zentrum für Kunst und Medien, Foto: Grünschloss

The works of Frei Otto and his research teams play an active role in current design of architecture and engineering. They are often referred to when lightweight structures or bionically inspired designs are discussed. The current attention on Frei Otto,his insights and merits should be interpreted as contributions to our heritage, prospect and responsibility. His exclamation “Stop building the way you build!“, formulated during a lecture in 1977 [1], is still reverberating. This outcry can be taken as an inspiration for many disciplines, be it architecture, engineering, biology or social sciences.

Frei Otto and the Institute of Lightweight Structures in Stuttgart

The establishment of the “Institute of Lightweight Structures” at the University of Stuttgart, Germany, was a starting point to a “time line” of lightweight structures at this location. Fritz Leonhardt called Frei Otto, who was at that time living and working in Berlin, to Stuttgart University. Fritz Leonhardt (1909 – 1999) was the designer of the Stuttgart television tower which was the first of its kind being constructed in reinforced concrete, the author of books dealing with “aesthetics” of bridges, and pioneer in the field of designing structures in reinforced concrete. Leonhardt had published his thoughts about lightweight structures as a “demand of our times” in 1940 [2], a time facing material scarcity during a devastating war which had been triggered by Nazi-influenced Germany. The lack of material, or the restriction to a certain kind of material, can be taken as a source of inspiration for lightweight construction: Eladio Dieste, Felix Candela and Robert Maillart developed their unique aesthetics by this kind of limitation. Fritz Leonhardt was aware of this special quality and in that spirit he called Frei Otto to be Professor at the the Institute of Lighweight Structures IL at Stuttgart University.

During this time, Frei Otto was dealing with the detailed design of the German pavilion for the Expo Montreal in 1967, a piece of architecture which was path breaking in many ways. A test building of the Expo roof, prototype of a cable net structure, was to become the place of location of the IL.

Joerg Schlaich was the successor of Fritz Leonhardt as Professor at the University of Stuttgart. Werner Sobek assumed the chair of Frei Otto at the Institute of Lightweight Structures in 1994. In 2001, he was additionally appointed as successor to Joerg Schlaich’s Chair. The two chairs were merged to become the “Institute of Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design” ILEK. In 2015, Werner Sobek was awarded the “Fritz Leonhardt Prize”, a distinction awarded every three years to an engineer in recognition of outstanding contributions to the area of structural engineering. In a very emotional speech, Sobek stated his view of the necessity of lightweight structures, based on very descriptive and startling numbers [3].

The circle is closing: the need for lightweight structures, be they named material-efficient or low-carbon-footprint, is even more relevant in the beginning of the 21st century. Frei Otto initiated a center of knowledge which reached out to the world.

“Thinking by Modeling” – the exhibition

The exhibition is set up in two large-scaled rooms of the “ZKM” (Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medien – Center for Arts and Media) museum in Karlsruhe. The building itself was originally built as a munition factory and is a protected monument with classical elements of industrial architecture. It hosts the ZKM since 1997.

The city of Karlsruhe is also the location of the “saai” (Suedwestdeutsches Archiv für Architektur und Ingenieurbau – Southwest German Archive of Architecture and Engineering), where Frei Otto’s works have been archived after his passing away.

Due to the initiative of Prof. Georg Vrachliotis, Professor at the KIT Karlsruhe, this impressive exhibition has been realized.

The exhibition is constituted by four elements: model landscape, open archive, cosmos, and projection.

Continue reading ““Thinking by Modeling”- Frei Otto Exhibition”