It looks a bit like a bug, or maybe some alien creature. But it’s actually a research pavilion, built by the University of Stuttgart in Germany to show off some cutting-edge design and fabrication technology.
Designed to mimic the hard outer wing of a flying beetle, the pavilion is part of a yearly project series at the university. Each year, designers push the limits of architecture and explore new building methods — usually creating some “unique” structures in the process.
This year’s challenge was to create a structure with composite materials without having to use a mold to shape them.
The team started by studying the beetle’s elytron (the protective shell on a beetle), creating high-resolution 3D scans and models of various beetle shells. Using these models, the team was able to analyze the internal structures.
They discovered that the beetle’s shell is a structure of two layers connected by column-like supports. Continuous fibers merge the upper and lower shell segments.
By performing these studies, the researchers were able to develop design rules for the structure of their pavilion.
Building the Beetle
The structural characteristics of the beetle shell helped with another part of the project: avoiding expensive molds for the components. Instead, the builders mimicked nature and connected two woven layers of fibers without a core. This allowed them to lay the fibers in the right direction and density to create a solid structure.
The team used a six-axis robot to weave lightweight carbon fiber and connect the top and bottom layers of the “shell.” The process also results in a web-like pattern in the finished product that adds visual appeal to a sturdy structure.
Made up of 36 of these woven nodules, the finished pavilion is straight out of a sci-fi movie. Because of the intricacy of the process, it’s not ready for prime time just yet.
Still, this project provides some exciting possibilities for future architectural projects — using lightweight, carbon fiber structures to replace heavier and more expensive materials.
See models of the ICD ITKE Research Pavilion in motion.
What do you think: Could this woven carbon fiber fabrication be in construction’s future, or will it remain purely conceptual?
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