Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Tokyo for the 2016 IASS Symposium, as one of the award recipients for the IASS design competition for an alternative New National Stadium. While I spent most of my time at the conference sessions, I still got to see many incredible structures while on a tour organized by IASS. Here are some highlights:
The Prada store by Herzog & de Meuron and Yakenaka Corporation features a lattice of H-sections that serves as both the lateral structural system and as the façade.
While on the tour, we got to see the Yoyogi Indoor Stadiums built for the 1964 Olympic Games. This was a very special visit, not because the 2020 Tokyo Olympic facilities were a major talking point at the conference, but because chief engineer Mamoru Kawaguchi was there to explain the project to us. At the time, Dr. Kawaguchi worked at Yoshikatsu Tsuboi’s firm, which designed the stadiums together with architect Kenzo Tange.
The world has tuned in to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to witness the highest caliber of athletics. However, unbeknownst to most spectators, this is also an occasion to see first-rate structural engineering: A lot of the action will be taking place against a backdrop of stadia and venues made possible by the work of schlaich bergermann partner (sbp).
Engineer Knut Stockhusen is a partner and managing director at sbp, and was paramount in establishing sbp’s presence in Brazil. In April, he came to visit Princeton to give a lecture and workshop on deployable roof structures, and I was lucky enough to sit down with him for a conversation.
Before talking about Brazil, I first wanted to hear more about schlaich bergermann partner.
Olek Niewiarowski: You’re always traveling and working around the world, but you’re based in Stuttgart, Germany. How is that like?
Knut Stockhusen: Our HQ is in Stuttgart, that’s where a lot of our activities are coordinated. But we have five other offices: Berlin, where Mike Schlaich is professor, New York, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, and we opened an office in Paris just this year. We noticed over the last few years that while it’s good to have one “base camp”, we still need several locations where we can work and live. We can’t travel all the time, and it is paramount to adjust to the local culture and the way of doing things.
Engineering and form finding research often occur in parallel with architectural research. In our increasingly digital world, architects have been exploring how technologies such as modeling, scripting, and digital fabrication should affect our built environment. Architects such as Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler, who have studied the effects of the digital world on the material world, observe that:
“…data and material can no longer be interpreted as a mere complement but rather as an inherent condition and thus an essential expression of architecture in the digital age. A digital materiality is emerging, where the interplay between data and material is seen then, in a new light, as an interdependent structuring of architecture and its material manifestations.” 
Furthermore, in their book Digital Materiality in Architecture (2008), they claim that:
“…digital orders intensify the particularities of material properties. Materials do not appear primarily as a texture or surface, but are exposed and experienced in their whole depth and plasticity.”
Inspired by the works of artists such as Hans Haacke (Blue Sail) and Shinji Ohmaki (Liminal Air Space-Time), Olek Niewiarowski of the Form Finding Lab explored these interactions between the digital and the physical by taking a seminar at the School of Architecture with Ryan Luke Johns.
Together with architecture students François Sabourin and Benjamin Vanmuysen, Olek created a physical set-up to explore an interactive “force finding” method with fabric under varying air pressures. The design agenda behind this was two-fold: the first part pertains to Gramazio and Kohler’s “sensuality of the digital” and sets to explore the possibility of enhancing perceptibility of a medium through digital intelligence. The group chose to work with air pressure, an invisible material, that when informed with digital order can be revealed and made plastic. The second intention is to explore an “analog” process of “inverse-form finding” or “force-finding,” where the objective is to use material actuation, sensing, and control to find the best fitting forces for a given shape not through analytical means, but through constant trial and error.