What I am thinking: structural and mathematical wizard Chris Williams

Chris Williams is an Artistic Professor at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, Chalmers University. Chris joined Ted Happold’s group at Arup in 1972 where he worked on Frei Otto’s Multihalle gridshells in Mannheim and was responsible for the structural analysis and physical model testing. In 1976 he came with Ted Happold to the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at the University of Bath. His research interests hinge on the … Continue reading What I am thinking: structural and mathematical wizard Chris Williams

What I am thinking: the budding glass engineer/artist Gregor Hortsmeyer

A native of California, Gregor Horstmeyer is an enthusiast of performance-based seismic design, in addition to glass, timber and concrete design. Growing up working in a glass blowing studio, he eventually combined his interest in glass with studies in engineering by writing a final year thesis on hyperbolic glass shell structures at the Form Finding Lab . Since joining Eckersley O’Callaghan in 2011, Horstmeyer has … Continue reading What I am thinking: the budding glass engineer/artist Gregor Hortsmeyer

What I am thinking: structure-inspired artist Lancelot Coar

Lancelot Coar is an Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Manitoba, specializing in undergraduate and masters level design studio and construction technology lecture courses and is a researcher at the Centre for Architectural Structures and Technology (CAST). His research includes the development of building systems using fabric formed concrete, fabric reinforced concrete, fabric reinforced ice structures, bending active fiberglass frames and post-tensioned wood. … Continue reading What I am thinking: structure-inspired artist Lancelot Coar

What I am thinking: differential geometer and structural engineer Allan McRobie

On Wednesday, the academic bookshop Heffers at Cambridge (UK) was packed for the book launch of “The seduction of Curves: the lines of beauty that connect mathematics, art and the nude”. The author Allan McRobie is a Reader in the Engineering Department at the University of Cambridge, where he teaches stability theory and structural engineering. He previously worked as an engineer in Australia, designing bridges … Continue reading What I am thinking: differential geometer and structural engineer Allan McRobie

What I am thinking: fiber sculptor and urban artist Janet Echelman

Janet Echelman is an American artist whose urban installations playfully respond to wind and light. In her work Echelman exploits the inherent beauty of common materials such as fishnets and atomized water particles in a design approach that elegantly combines ancient arts and craft with 21st century digital and numerical techniques.  To speak to her genius, she has received the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Harvard University … Continue reading What I am thinking: fiber sculptor and urban artist Janet Echelman

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

What I am thinking: Bill Baker at SOM

William F. Baker, also known as Bill Baker, is one of the leading structural engineers of our generation. Baker was the principal engineer of many buildings including the Burj Khalifa (Dubai, 2004)  and the Broadgate Exchange House (London, 1990) and can be considered as the exponent of the innovative structural engineering  tradition cultivated at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Sigrid Adriaenssens: What is the SOM approach … Continue reading What I am thinking: Bill Baker at SOM

What I am thinking: form making artist Maria Blaisse

Maria Blaisse is a Dutch visual artist and designer. She authored the book “The Emergence of Form”, in which she discusses her in-depth research into form in various materials and the numerous application possibilities, both autonomous and product-oriented.

Sigrid Adriaenssens: Why and how do you generate curved forms?

Maria Blaisse: discovering the curved lines .. while experimenting with incisions  in a rubber inner tube ( for a party of my children)  and while putting the forms on my head  something amazing happened. Then I realized I touched an energy field. I am still working with it.

I found the potential of the inner and outer curve of a torus. The inner curve generates energy and form, while spiraling centripetal. It was the most powerful thing to discover, the outer curve spiraling centrifugal loses form and energy. In my book the emergence of form you can see this research based on one form and one structure from here one can design any form or structure without any waste.

Variations on rubber inner tube – Copyright of Maria Blaisse

In your book “The emergence of form”, you state “form is ‘frozen’ movement”.  Please explain and illustrate that idea?

A form is always part of a movement. I found out while editing film that the stills have the most impact: the form is energized.

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Systematic variations in gauze structures based on one form – Copyright of Maria Blaisse

In your design approach, you emphasize beauty (wanting to ‘move’ people) but also material and energy efficiency. Why is that important to you and to society?

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What I am thinking: the engineer and architect Marc Mimram

Marc Mimram is a celebrated French engineer and architect with projects in France and around the globe. He generously shares with us his ideas on bridge design in conversation with PhD candidate Victor Charpentier.

Victor Charpentier (VC): Marc Mimram, you are both an architect and engineer. Yet you have said that when you are given a project, the greater part of the inspiration for the initial spark comes from a third field, which is study of the landscape and geography. Can you explain why this is so important to you and how this affects your designs?

Marc Mimram (MM): Each project should be specific. It has to be depending of the situation where it take place.

To become a coherent project, it has to be related to the geography, the horizon. It should express the relation to the ground, to the sky, to the landscape considered as a geography informed by history.

In that case the structural project can take roots in the reality and forget the abstract equation of strength of materials to express gravity, the movement of forces, the movement of light; being part of the situation, part of the world, belonging to the site.

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Whong Sheng Da Dao Bridge in Sino Singapour, Tainjin Eco-City (China). (Image provided by Marc Mimram)

Advanced technologies have allowed structural form finding to become an integral part of many recent design projects. How do you add your personal, creative touch to a process that can become largely computational? What are your thoughts on the role of this method for the future of engineering design?

MM: The process of computational form finding is a method of optimization and as such, it follows the development of the project. It is obviously important to develop the project with frugality but the rational process of development can be plural and the choice has to be related to the specific situation, taking into account the landscape, the topography but also the economical situation, the knowledge, the development of local craftsmanship, the local materials.

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Liu Shu footbrigde in the City of Yangzhou with a variable width of 3 to 5.7 m (Image provided by  Marc Mimram)

In the past decade, many of your larger bridge projects have been built in Asia or in North Africa in part because of more local design freedom. In your opinion, are there too many inhibitions in the field of construction in western countries? What could be improved to bring creativity and exploration back to construction while at the same time maintaining the high standards of safety?

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The refreshing tandem: the works of the engineer Laurent Ney perceived by the visual artist Toshio Shibata

What happens when an artist photographs the works of a master designer and builder? The recently published book Toshio SHIBATA / Laurent NEY shows how the photographer Shibata sees the work of Ney, not for its engineering logic but for its inherent poetry. In this book Ney generously shares with us his views on bridge design alongside the visual artistic perspective of  Shibata.  A most unexpected and refreshing tandem.  We are grateful for this blog text which is the introduction to  the book, published with author’s permission. The book  further showcases hundred photographs of the work by Laurent Ney taken by the Japanese artist Toshio Shibata and can be purchased through this link.

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From Toshio SHIBATA / Laurent NEY – (August 19, 2016). Publisher: MER. Paper Kunsthalle.

Introduction

The design of a bridge starts with the context, a context that includes more than just the physical context of the site, its natural surroundings and landscape. A context in its broadest sense takes in historical, technological, industrial, economic, ecological and procedural considerations, all of which are subject to material and procedural constraints, which the project’s author must respect or, better still, transcend.

The work itself, the creative act, is the projection of the imagined object into the future context of the site. The insertion of this object will of course change the context of the site, as the object becomes part of the place, it becomes a place in itself, it becomes context.  The context or the landscape finds itself altered by this insertion, its reading is modified. One can ask oneself if this reading has been improved or not by it, but of course there is no definitive answer to this question, it is eminently subjective. This is where an outsider’s view, such as that of artist-photographer Toshio Shibata, can reveal a denser reality that can be read on various levels.

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De Lichtenlijn Footbridge, Knokke, BE ©Toshio Shibata for Laurent Ney, Design©Laurent Ney

There are a number of different things that I hold to be especially important in the design of a bridge:

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