Computational design, which experiments with innovative design methods, finds new fabrication processes and structures for today’s architects. For the past 5 years, the Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE), at the University of Stuttgart, used computational and robotic processes in the construction of temporary pavilions. 

The processes that the diving bell spider uses to build its webs has inspired this year’s pavilion in Germany. It is the only spider known to spend its whole life underwater and, in order to survive, it forms an air bubble reinforced by a hierarchical arrangement of fibres. Likewise, the prototype created by the Stuttgart-based team consists of an air-supported plastic bubble, which is ‘an initially flexible, pneumatic framework gradually stiffened by reinforcing it with carbon fibres from the inside’. Explains Achim Menges and Jan Knippers, professors at ICD and ITKE, respectively, ‘similar to the spider, a digital agent navigates the surface shell geometry generating a proposed robot path for the fibre placement.’  Minimising the ‘construction waste associated with typically subtractive construction processes’, the carbon fibres are only applied for structural reinforcement.

The robotic tool was developed with an embedded sensor system that provides constant feedback between the actual production conditions and the digital generation of robot control codes. During the construction process, the sensors recorded the current position and contact force of the carbon fibre placement to avoid the deformation of the air membrane. In the end, this self-supporting monocoque structure is a lesson in material-effective construction while, at the same time, offering new opportunities for adaptive robotic construction processes.

Photos courtesy of ICD/ITKE