November 15, 2017

40@40: University of Stuttgart Students Design Pavilion Exploring Glass and Carbon Fiber

The form of the canopy, which cantilevers 39 feet, nods to the silk hammocks created by leaf miner moths. Photography by Roland Halbe.

Investigating innovative building processes and material systems is the shared objective of two University of Stuttgart departments: the Institute for Computational Design and Construction and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design. To give graduate students hands-on experience in their respective specialties, the two programs collaborate annually on the creation of a temporary full-scale pavilion.

Last year, professors Achim Menges and Jan Knippers led the three-semester initiative, which brought together an interdisciplinary team of 37 researchers, masters students, and collaborating partners with backgrounds in architecture, engineering, and biology. The goal was to explore the structural capabilities of glass and carbon fiber–reinforced composites: lightweight, long-span materials that boast high tensile strength and therefore open up possibilities for new fabrication methods employing automation.

The pavilion incorporates 114 miles of resin-impregnated glass and carbon fiber. Photography by Roland Halbe.

For inspiration and ideas, the team looked at various biological models— in particular leaf miner moths, which use silk to create cocoons significantly larger than their own bodies. “The insects employ adaptive building strategies to incrementally weave their hammocks and habitats,” the team members explain. Their efforts culminated in a curvaceous steel armature wrapped (via industrial robots and a drone) with some 114 miles of resin-impregnated glass and carbon fiber to create a gravity-defying cantilever. Imposing yet ethereal, it’s like the space-age chrysalis of a giant moth.

The winglike form, installed on a campus plaza, covers about 430 square feet and weighs approximately 2,200 pounds. Photography by Roland Halbe.

> See more from the November 2017 issue of Interior Design

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