This research project was driven by the hypothesis that the material capacity of a system consisting of uniform elements can be employed to achieve variable yet stable configurations with complex curvature through a vast array of local actuations. Initial experiments indicated the possibility of inducing geometric changes to an element consisting of two rectangular timber patches, which are attached to one another in two opposite corners, by the basic actuation of increasing the distance between the two loose corners through a spacer element. If a larger panel is covered with arrays of these small patches each equipped with two adjustable spacers, in this case simple bolts, the incremental actuation and consequential bending of each individual element leads to a cumulative induction of curvature in the larger panel. Elaborate physical tests then established the relation of element and patch variables such as size, thickness and fibre orientation, spacer locations, actuation distance and torque, which were subsequently encoded in the system’s parametric definition. The computational set-up then provided a specific assembly and actuation protocol from which all relevant information for constructing a full scale prototype could be obtained. Consisting of 48 identical patches, 1920 equal elements and 7680 bolts the structure remains to be entirely flat and flexible after the initial assembly. Only through the subsequent specific actuation of each spacer bolt, guided by the computationally derived data, the structure rises into a stable, self-supporting state that gains considerable stiffness and structural capacity through the resulting convex and concave curvature. This demonstrates how integral techniques can derive a variable, complex material system made up of amazingly simple, uniform elements.

GPA 01 Studio (Michael Hensel, Achim Menges)
Joseph Kellner and David Newton, Rice University, Houston, 2004