Discontinuous Strut Lattices

This project explores the limits of a material system consisting of uniform elements only. In doing so, it uses basic semi-finished products that exist in abundance in any DIY store: identical timber struts and cable-ties. The starting-point of the research was the recognition that, with all material elements being the same and only one joint type available, the way to create an irregular morphology from uniform elements is by altering the orientation of the sticks at each connection point within the system. The crucial parameters for connection were identified as the location of the connection point along the length of a strut, and the way struts were layered within a sub-assembly. Once logic of various sub-assembly had been established the possibilities embedded in the critical two parameters became apparent – altering the location of the struts either above or below each other and changing the distance between the connection points results in changing angles of the initially perpendicularly oriented sticks. This behaviour was carefully mapped and analysed in order to establish the range of curvature that could be induced between sub-assemblies. It became the key for the proliferation of the eight-strut sub-assembly into a larger and more varied system.

Further tests corroborated the relation between specific, digitally defined connection protocols, the anticipated system geometry and the resulting, physically modelled assemblies. Through these tests six different assembly types were identified, each with a specific adjustment scope defined by parametric variables. Possible configurations included acutely curved, convex and concave-to-planar lattice articulations. Furthermore, the critical parameters for a full-scale prototype could now be precisely described. A large prototype was built or, rather, a large prototypical assembly was taken through different stages of element addition and subtraction and different levels of connectivity between lattice layers. The alteration of connectivity showed that difference in curvature between connected layers can substantially increase the load-bearing capacity of the assembly by increasing stiffness, which makes it possible to change the orientation of the assembly relative to the axis of gravity without jeopardising its structural capacity.

The resultant, self-supporting, multi-layered and intricately curved material system assembled from thousands of identical timber sticks and cable-ties begins to reveal the geometric complexity and spatial opportunities afforded by this research. If design intelligence were invested in the bottom-up process driven by material experiments and digital modelling, mapping and analysis, a complex morphology could be developed, controlled and articulated by just two different, yet uniform, system constituents.

GPA 01 Studio (Michael Hensel, Achim Menges)
Jeremy Richy and Nathan Smith, Rice University, Houston, 2004