No Dig for Victory
Diploma Studio 10 at Westminster University School of Architecture
Palm trees are angiosperms, which means flowering plants. They are monocots which means their seeds produce a single, leaf-like cotyledon when they sprout. This makes palms closely related to grasses and bamboo.
This mature palm shows how the pattern originally seen in the young plant, forms a distinct mathematic pattern known as ‘Phyllotaxis’. This is a pattern with reoccurs throughout nature and is based on the Fibonacci sequence. In order to try to understand the use and formation of the palm fibre, the overall formation of the palm stem needed to be mathematically explored.
However, redrawing the cross-section of the base of the palm plants allows a better understanding of the arrangement of the palm plant.
This exercise allows models to be made to recreate the patterns found in palm plants. By engineering plywood components, the basic shape of the palm geometry can be made into a physical model.
This was pushed further by curving the plywood components to make extruded palm structure models
The arrayed components can then be altered so that the base of the models form regular polygon shapes. Doing this allows the potential for the structures to be tesselated. Using different numbers of components mean the structure can then be tested for strength.
There are hundreds of used for palm fruits, this the plant producing materials which range from durable, to flexible to edible. One of the more interesting ones if the production of palm wine using the sap from the tree. Within 2 hours of the wine tapping process, the wine may reach up to 4%, by the following day the palm wine will become over fermented. Some prefer to drink the beverage at this point due to the higher alcohol content. The wine immediately begins fermenting, both from natural yeast in the air and from the remnants of wine left in the containers to add flavour. Ogogoro described a ‘local gin’, is a much stronger spirit made from Raffia palm tree sap. After extraction, the sap is boiled to form steam, which is then condensed and collected for consumption. Ogogoro is not synthetic ethanol but it is tapped from a natural source and then distilled.
To understand the fermentation process more clear, the process of fermenting sugar to make wine has been undertaken.
The distillation of the wine can be used to make bio-ethanol. This production of this fuel can act as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuel energy, which is overused and damaging to our environment.
The developed structure, as well as the production of palm wine and bio-ethanol, can be collaborated to develop a programme, which provides sustainable energy, within a space that is inviting and exciting.
The production of bio-fuel releases a lot of carbon dioxide. In order to ensure the process does not impact the environment, this needs to occur inside a closed system, so the CO2 does not enter the atmosphere. This can be done by using the properties of a Solar Updraft Tower. Carbon dioxide released from the fermentation and distillation processes can be received by palm trees for increased photosynthesis, while the excess oxygen from the trees provides fresh air for visitors.
The fermentation process can be controlled within an isolated area of the model.
The Distillation process, which requires a store of water for cooling, can also be conducted in an isolated area of the model, with apparatus incorporated into the structure.
The final proposal will be a combination of all three forms
The fern is one of the basic examples of fractals. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales, created by repeating a simple process over and over in a loop. The Barnsley fern (Example here) shows how graphically beautiful structures can be built from repetitive uses of mathematical formulas.
Due to the fractal nature of the fern fronds, the perimeter of the laser cutting took a long time. By simplifying this, I began joining fronds to each other and the large perimeter allowed for enough friction for the fronds to adhere to the adjacent one. I explored this through a series of 4 different frond types (X Axes on matrix below), angles of rotation (Y2, Y3) and distance between each leaf (Y4).
With the study of many different arrangements of fronds and distances between each leaf in the frond, I was then able to select those that slotted in to the adjacent ones best and began arranging them with more components.
The arching nature of each individual leaf meant the configuration was only stable once the fitting in of each component had passed the node of the arch. By flattening each component into rectangular members, the friction that allows the components to adhere to each other would be constant throughout the length of the individual part. This means they could now be placed more or less fitted in to the other component, as desired.
I then scaled up the component and attempted to array these as done with the smaller components above. Each component measured 600 mm length-wise and consisted of 5 members (3 facing one way and 2 facing the other, with a gap between them matching the width of each member). They originated from a central “stem” and attached to this by using glue and nails as to allow for easy manufacturing.
Simultaneously, I also became intrigued by a small aquatic fern called Azolla which I thought would be worth exploring too.
What is interesting about this little plant is that it holds the world record in biomass producer – doubling in size from 3-10 days. It is all thanks to its symbiotic relationship with the nitrogen fixing cyanobacterium, Anabaena. This superorganism provides a micro-climate in exchange for nitrate fertilizer.They remain together during the fern’s reproductive cycle. They also have a complimentary photosynthesis, using light from most of the visible spectrum.
The initial aspiration of the project was to produce a method of simplifying the construction of the 5 regular platonic solids (Tetrahedron, Cube, Octahedron, Dodecahedron and Icosahedron) using only bend active timber and simple bolted connections, eliminating the need for complex nodal connections as seen in geodesic dome construction and other compound angle connections.
Bend active timber being the main research topic, the structural capabilities and bending radii of plywood were physically tested incorporating the several thicknesses and crucially the direction of the bend either being parallel or perpendicular to the grain, resulting in an informative results matrix.
Digital explorations were undertaken for each of the platonic solids creating various sized volumetric frame structures. The resultant sizes were due to each component being constrained to fit on a standard 2440x1220mm plywood sheet and the resultant bending radius
Following physical investigations of each, the cube was taken forward as it was; more efficient in terms of material usage, easier method of assembly comparatively and unintentionally produced a deployable mechanism similar to the famous Hoberman’s sphere.
The system utilizes identical components meaning the fabrication process can be quickly and easily performed using a CNC machine, with assembling being intuitive, not requiring different parts or specialised assembly instructions. The components were cut using my own CNC and were then simply assembled by hand using bolted connections to create the skeletal frame. Assembly was extremely quick, from flat components to finished volumetric module taking only 20 minutes.
The natural world is brimming with ratios, and spirals, that have been captivating mathematicians for centuries.
Infinite fractions and the most irrational number: [Link]
The Golden Ratio (why it is so irrational): [Link]
The Silver Ratio & Metallic Means: [Link]
M.C. Escher said that we adore chaos because we love to produce order. Alain Badiou also said that mathematics is a rigorous aesthetic; it tells us nothing of real being, but forges a fiction of intelligible consistency.
Grids, shells, and how they, in conjunction with the study of the natural world, can help us develop increasingly complex structural geometry.
This post is the third installment of sort of trilogy, after Shapes, Fractals, Time & the Dimensions they Belong to, and Developing Space-Filling Fractals. While it’s not important to have read either of those posts to follow this one, I do think it adds a certain level of depth and continuity.
Regarding my previous entries, it can be difficult to see how any of this has to do with architecture. In fact I know a few people who think studying fractals is pointless.
Admittedly I often struggle to explain to people what fractals are, let alone how they can influence the way buildings look. However, I believe that this post really sheds light on how these kinds of studies may directly influence and enhance our understanding (and perhaps even the future) of our built environment.
On a separate note, I heard that a member of the architectural academia said “forget biomimicry, it doesn’t work.”
Firstly, I’m pretty sure Frei Otto would be rolling over in his grave.
Secondly, if someone thinks that biomimicry is useless, it’s because they don’t really understand what biomimicry is. And I think the same can be said regarding the study of fractals. They are closely related fields of study, and I wholeheartedly believe they are fertile grounds for architectural marvels to come.
As far as classification goes, shells generally fall under the category of two-dimensional shapes. They are defined by a curved surface, where the material is thin in the direction perpendicular to the surface. However, assigning a dimension to certain shells can be tricky, since it kinda depends on how zoomed in you are.
A strainer is a good example of this – a two-dimensional gridshell. But if you zoom in, it is comprised of a series of woven, one-dimensional wires. And if you zoom in even further, you see that each wire is of course comprised of a certain volume of metal.
This is a property shared with many fractals, where their dimension can appear different depending on the level of magnification. And while there’s an infinite variety of possible shells, they are (for the most part) categorizable.
Analytic geometry is created in relation to Cartesian planes, using mathematical equations and a coordinate systems. Synthetic geometry is essentially free-form geometry (that isn’t defined by coordinates or equations), with the use of a variety of curves called splines. The following shapes were created via Synthetic geometry, where we’re calling our splines ‘u’ and ‘v.’Uniclastic: Barrel Vault (Cylindrical paraboloid)
These curves highlight each dimension of the two-dimensional surface. In this case only one of the two ‘curves’ is actually curved, making this shape developable. This means that if, for example, it was made of paper, you could flatten it completely.
In this case, one of them grows in length, but the other still remains straight. Since one of the dimensions remains straight, it’s still a single curved surface – capable of being flattened without changing the area. Singly curved surfaced may also be referred to as uniclastic or monoclastic.
These can be classified as synclastic or anticlastic, and are non-developable surfaces. If made of paper, you could not flatten them without tearing, folding or crumpling them.Synclastic: Dome (Elliptic paraboloid)
In this case, both curves happen to be identical, but what’s important is that both dimensions are curving in the same direction. In this orientation, the dome is also under compression everywhere.
The surface of the earth is double curved, synclastic – non-developable. “The surface of a sphere cannot be represented on a plane without distortion,” a topic explored by Michael Stevens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lR7s1Y6ZigAnticlastic: Saddle (Hyperbolic paraboloid)
This shape was achieved by sweeping a straight line over a straight path at one end, and another straight path at the other. This will work as long as both rails are not parallel. Although I find this shape perplexing; it’s double curvature that you can create with straight lines, yet non-developable, and I can’t explain it..Ruled Surface & Surface of Revolution (Circular Hyperboloid)
The hyperboloid has been a popular design choice for (especially nuclear cooling) towers. It has excellent tensile and compressive properties, and can be built with straight members. This makes it relatively cheap and easy to fabricate relative to it’s size and performance.
These are singly curved curves, although that does sound confusing. A simple way to understand what geodesic curves are, is to give them a width. As previously explored, we know that curves can inhabit, and fill, two-dimensional space. However, you can’t really observe the twists and turns of a shape that has no thickness.Conic Plank Lines (Source: The Geometry of Bending)
A ribbon is essentially a straight line with thickness, and when used to follow the curvature of a surface (as seen above), the result is a plank line. The term ‘plank line’ can be defined as a line with an given width (like a plank of wood) that passes over a surface and does not curve in the tangential plane, and whose width is always tangential to the surface.
Since one-dimensional curves do have an orientation in digital modeling, geodesic curves can be described as the one-dimensional counterpart to plank lines, and can benefit from the same definition.
The University of Southern California published a paper exploring the topic further: http://papers.cumincad.org/data/works/att/f197.content.pdf
For simplicity, here’s a basic grid set up on a flat plane:Basic geodesic curves on a plane
We start by defining two points anywhere along the edge of the surface. Then we find the geodesic curve that joins the pair. Of course it’s trivial in this case, since we’re dealing with a flat surface, but bear with me.
We can keep adding pairs of points along the edge. In this case they’re kept evenly spaced and uncrossing for the sake of a cleaner grid.Addition of secondary set of curves
After that, it’s simply a matter of playing with density, as well as adding an additional set of antagonistic curves. For practicality, each set share the same set of base points.Grid with independent sets
He’s an example of a grid where each set has their own set of anchors. While this does show the flexibility of a grid, I think it’s far more advantageous for them to share the same base points.
The same principle is then applied to a series of surfaces with varied types of curvature.
First comes the shell (a barrel vault in this case), then comes the grid. The symmetrical nature of this surface translates to a pretty regular (and also symmetrical) gridshell. The use of geodesic curves means that these gridshells can be fabricated using completely straight material, that only necessitate single curvature.Uniclastic: Conoid Geodesic Gridshell
The same grid used on a conical surface starts to reveal gradual shifts in the geometry’s spacing. The curves always search for the path of least resistance in terms of bending.Synclastic: Dome Geodesic Gridshell
This case illustrates the nature of geodesic curves quite well. The dome was free-formed with a relatively high degree of curvature. A small change in the location of each anchor point translates to a large change in curvature between them. Each curve looks for the shortest path between each pair (without leaving the surface), but only has access to single curvature.Anticlastic: Saddle Geodesic Gridshell
Structurally speaking, things get much more interesting with anticlastic curvature. As previously stated, each member will behave differently based on their relative curvature and orientation in relation to the surface. Depending on their location on a gridshell, plank lines can act partly in compression and partly in tension.
While geodesic curves make it far more practical to fabricate shells, they are not a strict requirement. Using non-geodesic curves just means more time, money, and effort must go into the fabrication of each component. Furthermore, there’s no reason why you can’t use alternate grid patterns. In fact, you could use any pattern under the sun – any motif your heart desires (even tessellated puppies.)
Here are just a few of the endless possible pattern. They all have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of fabrication, as well as structural potential.Biosphere Environment Museum – Canada
Gridshells with large amounts of triangulation, such as Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic spheres, typically perform incredibly well structurally. These structure are also highly efficient to manufacture, as their geometry is extremely repetitive.Centre Pompidou-Metz – France
Gridshells with highly irregular geometry are far more challenging to fabricate. In this case, each and every piece had to be custom made to shape; I imagine it must have costed a lot of money, and been a logistical nightmare. Although it is an exceptionally stunning piece of architecture (and a magnificent feat of engineering.)
In our case, building these shells is simply a matter of converting the geodesic curves into planks lines.Hyperbolic Paraboloid: Straight Line Sweep Variation With Rotating Plank Line Grid
The whole point of using them in the first place is so that we can make them out of straight material that don’t necessitate double curvature. This example is rotating so the shape is easier to understand. It’s grid is also rotating to demonstrate the ease at which you can play with the geometry.Hyperbolic Paraboloid: Flattened Plank Lines With Junctions
This is what you get by taking those plank lines and laying them flat. In this case both sets are the same because the shell happens to the identicall when flipped. Being able to use straight material means far less labour and waste, which translates to faster, and or cheaper, fabrication.
An especially crucial aspect of gridshells is the bracing. Without support in the form of tension ties, cable ties, ring beams, anchors etc., many of these shells can lay flat. This in and of itself is pretty interesting and does lends itself to unique construction challenges and opportunities. This isn’t always the case though, since sometimes it’s the geometry of the joints holding the shape together (like the geodesic spheres.) Sometimes the member are pre-bent (like Pompidou-Metz.) Although pre-bending the timber kinda strikes me as cheating thought.. As if it’s not a genuine, bona fide gridshell.Toledo Gridshell 2.0. Construction Process [source: Timber gridshells – Numerical simulation, design and construction of a full scale structure]
This is one of the original build method, where the gridshell is assembled flat, lifted into shape, then locked into place.
Having studied the basics makes exploring increasingly elaborate geometry more intuitive. In principal, most of the shells we’ve looked are known to perform well structurally, but there are strategies we can use to focus specifically on performance optimization.
These are surfaces that are locally area-minimizing – surfaces that have the smallest possible area for a defined boundary. They necessarily have zero mean curvature, i.e. the sum of the principal curvatures at each point is zero. Soap bubbles are a great example of this phenomenon.
Hyperbolic Paraboloid Soap Bubble [Source: Serfio Musmeci’s “Froms With No Name” and “Anti-Polyhedrons”]Soap film inherently forms shapes with the least amount of area needed to occupy space – that minimize the amount of material needed to create an enclosure. Surface tension has physical properties that naturally relax the surface’s curvature.Kangaroo2 Physics: Surface Tension Simulation
We can simulate surface tension by using a network of curves derived from a given shape. Applying varies material properties to the mesh results in a shape that can behaves like stretchy fabric or soap. Reducing the rest length of each of these curves (while keeping the edges anchored) makes them pull on all of their neighbours, resulting in a locally minimal surface.
Here are a few more examples of minimal surfaces you can generate using different frames (although I’d like stress that the possibilities are extremely infinite.) The first and last iterations may or may not count, depending on which of the many definitions of minimal surfaces you use, since they deal with pressure. You can read about it in much greater detail here: https://tinyurl.com/ya4jfqb2The Eden Project – United Kingdom
Here we have one of the most popular examples of minimal surface geometry in architecture. The shapes of these domes were derived from a series of studies using clustered soap bubbles. The result is a series of enormous shells built with an impressively small amount of material.
Triply periodic minimal surfaces are also a pretty cool thing (surfaces that have a crystalline structure – that tessellate in three dimensions):
Another powerful method of form finding has been to let gravity dictate the shapes of structures. In physics and geometry, catenary (derived from the Latin word for chain) curves are found by letting a chain, rope or cable, that has been anchored at both end, hang under its own weight. They look similar to parabolic curves, but perform differently.Kangaroo2 Physics: Catenary Model Simulation
A net shown here in magenta has been anchored by the corners, then draped under simulated gravity. This creates a network of hanging curves that, when converted into a surface, and mirrored, ultimately forms a catenary shell. This geometry can be used to generate a gridshell that performs exceptionally well under compression, as long as the edges are reinforced and the corners are braced.
While I would be remiss to not mention Antoni Gaudí on the subject of catenary structure, his work doesn’t particularly fall under the category of gridshells. Instead I will proceed to gawk over some of the stunning work by Frei Otto.
Of course his work explored a great deal more than just catenary structures, but he is revered for his beautiful work on gridshells. He, along with the Institute for Lightweight Structures, have truly been pioneers on the front of theoretical structural engineering.
Frei Otto is a fine example of ecological literacy at its finest. A profound curiosity of the natural world greatly informed his understanding of structural technology. This was all nourished by countless inquisitive and playful investigations into the realm of physics and biology. He even wrote a series of books on the way that the morphology of bird skulls and spiderwebs could be applied to architecture called Biology and Building. His ‘IL‘ series also highlights a deep admiration of the natural world.
Of course he’s the not the only architect renown their fascination of the universe and its secrets; Buckminster Fuller and Antoni Gaudí were also strong proponents of biomimicry, although they probably didn’t use the term (nor is the term important.)
Gaudí’s studies of nature translated into his use of ruled geometrical forms such as hyperbolic paraboloids, hyperboloids, helicoids etc. He suggested that there is no better structure than the trunk of a tree, or a human skeleton. Forms in biology tend to be both exceedingly practical and exceptionally beautiful, and Gaudí spent much of his life discovering how to adapt the language of nature to the structural forms of architecture.
Fractals were also an undisputed recurring theme in his work. This is especially apparent in his most renown piece of work, the Sagrada Familia. The varying complexity of geometry, as well as the particular richness of detail, at different scales is a property uniquely shared with fractal nature.
Antoni Gaudí and his legacy are unquestionably one of a kind, but I don’t think this is a coincidence. I believe the reality is that it is exceptionally difficult to peruse biomimicry, and especially fractal geometry, in a meaningful way in relation to architecture. For this reason there is an abundance of superficial appropriation of organic, and mathematical, structures without a fundamental understanding of their function. At its very worst, an architect’s approach comes down to: ‘I’ll say I got the structure from an animal. Everyone will buy one because of the romance of it.”
That being said, modern day engineers and architects continue to push this envelope, granted with varying levels of success. Although I believe that there is a certain level of inevitability when it comes to how architecture is influenced by natural forms. It has been said that, the more efficient structures and systems become, the more they resemble ones found in nature.
Euclid, the father of geometry, believed that nature itself was the physical manifestation of mathematical law. While this may seems like quite a striking statement, what is significant about it is the relationship between mathematics and the natural world. I like to think that this statement speaks less about the nature of the world and more about the nature of mathematics – that math is our way of expressing how the universe operates, or at least our attempt to do so. After all, Carl Sagan famously suggested that, in the event of extra terrestrial contact, we might use various universal principles and facts of mathematics and science to communicate.
Delving deeper into the world of mathematics, fractals, geometry, and space-filling curves.
In 1890, Giuseppe Peano discovered the first of what would be called space-filing curves:
This project involves the conception and design of a new way of mapping constellations, based on subdivision processes like Stellation. It explores how subdivision can define and embellish architectural design with an elaborate system of fractals based on mathematics and complex algorithms.
An abstracted form of galaxy is used as an input form to the subdivision process called Stellation. In geometry, meaning the process of extending a polytope in n dimensions to form a new figure. Starting with an original figure, the process extends specific elements such as its edges or face planes, usually in a symmetrical way, until they meet each other again to form the closed boundary of a new figure.
The material used for this installation will be timber sheets of 1/3 of an inch thickness that will be laser-cut.The panels will be connected to each other with standard connection elements which have already been tested structurally based on an origami structure.
The lighting of the installation will consist on LED strips that will light with burners interactions.
Although stars in constellations appear near each other in the sky, they usually lie at a variety of distances away from the observer. Since stars also travel along their own orbits through the Milky Way, the constellation outlines change slowly over time and through perspective.
There are 88 constellations set at the moment, but I would like to prove that there are infinite amount of stars that have infinite amount of connections with each other.The installation will show you all the possible connections between this stars, but will never rule which connection is the one you need to make.
I would like burners to choose their own stars and draw their own constellations. Any constellation that they can possibly imagine from their one and only perspective, using coloured lights that react to their touch.
The end result will have thousands of different geometries/constellations that will have a meaning for each one of the burners and together will create a new meaningful lighted galaxy full of stars.
On a clear night, away from artificial light, it’s possible to see over 5000 stars with the naked eye. These appear to orbit the Earth in a fixed pattern, as if they are attached to a giant sphere that makes one revolution a day.This stars though are organised in Constellations.
The word “constellation” seems to come from the Late Latin term cōnstellātiō, which can be translated as “set of stars”. The relationship between this sets of stars has been drawn by the perspective of the human eye.
“Omnis Stellae” is a manifestation of the existence of different perspectives. For me, there is great value in recognising different perspectives in life, because nothing is really Black and White, everything relates to the point of view and whose point of view and background that is.
As a fractal geometry this installation embodies an endless number of stars that each person can connect and imagine endless geometries, that will only make sense from their own perspective. The stellated geometry will show you all the possible connections but will never impose any.
“Omnis Stellae” is about creating your own constellations and sharing them with the rest of the burners, is about sharing your own perspective of the galaxy and create some meaningful geometries that might not mean anything to other people but would mean the world to you.
The grand finale is if it could become the physical illustration of all the perspectives of the participants at Burning Man 2018 shown as one.