Submitted by WA Contents

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Italy Architecture News - Jun 6, 2016 - 17:48   9023 views

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

The Armadillo Vault created by ETH Zurich, Ochsendorf DeJong & Block, and The Escobedo Group at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, which is the centrepiece of the ''Beyond Bending'', learning from the past to design a better future. Throughout history, master builders have discovered expressive forms through the constraints of economy, efficiency and elegance. Inspired by historical design and construction methods, ETH Zurich’s Block Research Group led by Prof. Dr. Philippe Block and Dr. Tom Van Mele renews the knowledge of the past using present-day technologies to discover elegant new structural forms. 


Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © WAC

Their exhibition, Beyond Bending, a collaborative effort with the engineering firm Ochsendorf, DeJong & Block (ODB) and The Escobedo Group, asks, ''What can we regain from the past, and how can we reshape or innovate upon that knowledge to fit present and future needs?'' The exhibition’s various elements – four prototypes of vaulted floor systems, a series of graphical force diagrams, and an expansive stone vault – demonstrate that, by better understanding the flow of compressive forces in three dimensions, excess steel can be eliminated, natural resources can be conserved, and humble materials like earth and stone can be reimagined for the future.

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Anna Maragkoudaki

The exhibition’s centrepiece, the Armadillo Vault, embodies the beauty of compression made possible through geometry. Its shape comes from the same structural and constructional principles as the stone cathedrals of the past enhanced and extended by computation and digital fabrication. Comprised of 399 individually cut stones, unreinforced and without mortar, the vault spans 16 metres with a minimum thickness of only 5 centimetres. The tension ties balance the form, and funicular geometry allows the vault to stand in pure compression.

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Anna Maragkoudaki

The sophisticated form of the Armadillo Vault emerged from computational graphic-statics based design and optimisation methods developed by the Block Research Group. The engineering of the geometrically discrete shell, done by ODB Engineering, also used innovative computational approaches to assess stability. Each stone is informed by structural logic, by the need for precise fabrication and assembly, by the hard constraints of a historically protected setting in the Biennale’s Corderie dell'Arsenale, as well as by tight limitations on time, budget, and construction. 

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Anna Maragkoudaki

To simplify the fabrication process and avoid the need to flip the stones during cutting, the limestone wedges are planar and smooth on the exterior. Their interior sides are marked by a series of grooves resulting from initial rough cutting. Rather than mill these surfaces away, they remain as an expressive feature, aligned with purpose to serve as visual reminders of the force flow.

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Anna Maragkoudaki

After its initial fabrication and assembly by The Escobedo Group in Texas, the vault was carefully measured and marked, disassembled and shipped to Venice, where the same team of master stonemasons reassembled it on site in just over two weeks. Like an intricate 3D puzzle, it could be deconstructed and built again at future locations.

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Iwan Baan

The project is inspired by historical tile vaults, contemporary fabrication methods move beyond masonry to create new design possibilities for ribbed vaults in a variety of settings. Uninhibited by traditional fabrication constraints, new structural form-finding and optimisation methods can result in more efficient geometry in compression. 

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © WAC

The compressive vaults thrust outward on the supports, but this thrust is absorbed by tension ties. Like their historical precedents, such vaults demonstrate significant savings in weight and environmental impact compared to conventional concrete slabs and thus inspire new floor systems created with ultra-thin concrete and 3D print technology.

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Iwan Baan

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Iwan Baan

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Iwan Baan

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Anna Maragkoudaki

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Anna Maragkoudaki

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Anna Maragkoudaki

Armadillo Vault by ETH Zurich is searching for new elegant structural forms at the Venice Biennale

Image © Anna Maragkoudaki

Project Facts

Concept: Philippe Block and John Ochsendorf

Structural design & Architectural geometry: Block Research Group, ETH Zurich - Philippe Block, Tom Van Mele, Matthias Rippmann, Edyta Augustynowicz, Cristián Calvo Barentin, Tomás Méndez, Echenagucia, Mariana Popescu, Andrew Liew, Anna Maragkoudaki, Ursula Frick, Robin Oval, Nick Krouwel, Noelle Paulson

Structural engineering: Ochsendorf DeJong & Block - John Ochsendorf, Matthew DeJong, Philippe Block, Anjali Mehrotra

Fabrication & Construction: The Escobedo Group - David Escobedo, Matthew Escobedo, Salvador Crisanto, John Curry, Francisco Tovar Yebra, Joyce I-Chin Chen, Adam Bath, Hector Betancourt, Luis Rivera, Antonio Rivera, Carlos Rivera, Carlos Zuniga Rivera, Samuel Rivera, Jairo Rivera, Humberto Rivera, Jesus Rosales, Dario Rivera

With contributions by: David Pigram, Salvador Gomis Aviñó, Salvador Tomás Márquez, Jonathan Dessi-Olive, Camilla Mileto, Fernando Vegas López-Manzanares, Javier Gómez Patrocinio, Benjamin, Ibarra Sevilla, Universitat Politècnica de València, Fundación José Soriano Ramos

Lighting: Lichtkompetenz, Artemide

Sponsors: Kathy and David Escobedo, ETH Zurich, Department of Architecture, MIT, School of Architecture + Planning, NCCR Digital Fabrication, Pro Helvetia, Artemide

Top image © Iwan Baan

> via Venice Architecture Biennale